Half-mile jaunt at Earthquake Park reminds visitors of 1964 shaker

Short and sweet. And educational too.

Southcentral Alaska has an array of trails, with some of the better-known ones offering quite an excursion. The Resurrection Pass Trail spans 38 miles from Hope to Cooper Landing. The Crow Pass Trail is roughly a full marathon between Girdwood and Eagle River.

At the other end of the spectrum is the Inside the Slide Trail that lies within the maze of social trails at Earthquake Park. It's a half-mile long and was just freshened up by Youth Employment in Parks (YEP) with 10 new interpretive signs explaining the impact of the 1964 earthquake on that part of west Anchorage, especially the massive earth slide that stretched for about a mile.

With a $50,000 grant from the 2014 legislature, the Anchorage Park Foundation worked with the Anchorage Parks Department to install new interpretive displays and provide new directional signs so visitors to the Earthquake Park can figure out where to get started and ensure they end up in the same place.

Dwayne Adams, a senior associate landscape architect with Earthscape, did the graphics and text on the signs and with a colleague donated hundreds of hours of time to ensure the project could be completed.

"Mostly, people kind of stumble across it. I put up some directional signs that the Parks Department purchased so people know where to go and stay in the gentler terrain on the western side of the park," he said. "If you go to the eastern side, it gets pretty gnarly."

And pretty buggy. With plenty of standing water, it's a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

"The central portion of park gets explored quite a bit, but not the eastern portion," Adams said. "It's still pretty wild.

"There are some big dropoffs of 20-40 feet," areas that slid dramatically during the 9.2 Good Friday quake of 1964. "It has very much the character of the old slide," he said.

While the trail is in the gentler area of the park, it still exhibits marked indications of the massive landslide that created Earthquake Park. Adams said some spruce and birch trees dropped at least 40 feet in the earthquake and "were transported sideways anywhere from 100 to 500 feet and still survived. The problem is (without signage) not many people are aware of the slide when they go through the park. It looks like any other forested area. So the history is kind of lost."

Original signs went up at the parking lot in 1981. With the recent grant appropriated by the legislature, Adams updated information for the new signs, did painted watercolor illustrations and interviewed seismologists with the U.S. Geological Survey, including Peter Haeussler, who ensured the information reflected currently thinking about the causes of the 1964 landslide.

Maeve Nevins, a planner with the city's parks department, said Earthquake Park attracts thousands of visitors, even in winter. A counter at the junction of the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail and an access trail into Earthquake Park showed an average of 153 pedestrians and 131 cyclists a day from October 2013 to May 2014.

"It's quite popular," Nevins said. "The Turnagain Community Council has been very supportive of the upgrades, and we've received a ton of information (about what could be done) from the mountain biking community, too."

Contact Mike Campbell at mcampbell@alaskadispatch.com

If you go

To access the panels, used a paved access trail to the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail from the Earthquake Park parking lot.

Head down a coastal trail hill to a sharp left turn.

The first panel on the Inside the Slide Trail, is to the right.

Mike Campbell

Mike Campbell was a longtime editor for Alaska Dispatch News, and before that, the Anchorage Daily News.