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Valley newcomer explores the outdoor delights of the Butte

  • Author: Alli Harvey
    | Alaska Outdoors
  • Updated: December 2, 2017
  • Published May 31, 2017

A float plane flies by the nearly 900-foot summit of Bodenburg Butte in Palmer, Alaska on June 15, 2016. The Chugach Mountains’ iconic Pioneer Peak dominates the background.  (Scott Jensen / ADN archive 2016)

Butte, Alaska. It's a place that seems to bring up fond memories for friends who grew up in Anchorage. Earlier this year when I announced that my husband and I were moving to Palmer and specifically to Butte (or, the Butte), the reaction I got was enthusiastic. "Butte!" said a friend, whose name I've suddenly just forgotten. "That's where I went to burn cars when I was a teenager!"

My husband and I have lived here for a few months now. I can say from experience that the car-burning game remains strong — we've seen several cars turn gradually to husks over the course of a weekend at Jim Creek. But, believe it or not, I've discovered ways to get outside in the Butte that do not involve arson or stolen cars.

About 10 years ago, when I was training for my first half-marathon, I drove north to Palmer to spend the weekend with friends. I told them the distance of the run I needed to do and they deposited me at the beginning of the Bodenburg Loop, a 7-mile stretch with stunning views of Pioneer Peak looming over farmland.

This memory comes back to me now when I run or bike the loop, which is no less stunning now than it was a decade ago.

Keith Barkwood rides a Percheron draft horse named Bella along Bodenburg Loop in Butte. Bella belongs to a neighbor, but Barkwood rides and grooms the horse often. “I love the view from up here,” he said. (Erik Hill / ADN archive 2016)

Another great feature of Butte is that it's largely protected from the winds that scour much of the Mat-Su. Winds off the Knik and Matanuska glaciers howl past us. When I see trees twitching faintly in my yard, I know there's probably a gale-force blow in downtown Palmer.

The Butte

Of course, the defining feature of the neighborhood is a 900-foot-tall glacial erratic called Bodenburg Butte, or more commonly the Butte. (Another perk to living here is getting to say "glacial erratic" frequently, which calls to mind a giant glacier overhead dropping the Butte in its path like a pebble in a very slow river).

The Butte has two trailheads, with the more defined, moderate path on the north side but many different social trails snaking up its dusty sides to the top. On the weekends or even weeknights, the parking lot is frequently at or near capacity.

This quick hike serves as the Flattop of the neighborhood, as popular in Mat-Su as Alaska's most-climbed peak is in Anchorage. Teenagers run it multiple times to train; families with small children take their time; people of all ages go on hike dates.

If you want, you can even attend a yoga class. On the first and third Saturdays in June, July, and August a 10 a.m. yoga class at the top of the Butte is hosted by Midnight Sun Yoga based in Palmer.

Old, young, yoga, running, toddling. I love the people I see on the Butte as much as I love saying glacial erratic.

Bright sunshine greets yoga practitioners participating in the first “Yoga on the Butte” class sponsored by Blue Mountains Wellness Studio on Bodenburg Butte in 2009. (Erik Hill / ADN archive 2009)

Popular bike path

Another awesome feature of the Butte is the bike path, originally constructed to alleviate pedestrian traffic on the narrow Old Glenn Highway running through the neighborhood. It seems to have worked.

On any given day on the path, I see the same wide range of users as on the Butte — walkers, fancy-looking cyclists, kids on tricycles, pods of teenagers, moms with strollers and joggers.

The path is completely separated from the highway all the way from the Butte to downtown Palmer, approximately 7 miles of trail. From Palmer, you can continue on the path all the way to Wasilla.

I haven't done the entire thing, but I have biked on either end of the path (near Big Lake and, of course, in the Butte). While separated bike paths are not my favorite (I prefer bike lanes), I use the path regularly to go downtown and love that it's such a popular feature of the neighborhood.

The Reindeer Farm sits on the south side of Bodenburg Butte as an animal pauses from grazing near the fence line at the Butte. (Erik Hill / ADN archive 2009)

As I'm sure any longtime Butte dweller won't hesitate to remind me, I'm brand new to this place and still gawking at what's different and exciting.

I have my own toys for getting outside — sneakers, bikes, and skis — but there is a lot I haven't tried. I regularly wave to people on horseback, ATVs and snowmachines. The Plumley-Maud Trail that starts in Butte and eventually runs into the Morgan Horse Trail off Lazy Mountain is a popular place for ATVs. It's a good place to be outside when the wind is raging through the Mat-Su, since it's mostly protected in the woods.

Additionally, the Jim Creek trails are very popular for year-round motorized use, and avid fat-tire cyclists can access the popular Knik Glacier from the Butte side of the river (although the Knik access is far shorter).

To say there is a lot to explore out here is an understatement. I'm still taking it all in and, burning cars aside, I'm pinching myself that this is where I live.

Alli Harvey lives in Palmer, works in Anchorage and plays throughout Southcentral.