Where fear meets fascination

by • December 19, 2016 • 61 North, Highlights, Home DisplayComments (0)849

Illustration by Roan Hall.

Illustration by Roan Hall.

Recent crimes on Anchorage trails leave us leery yet curious

If you’re a trail user, chances are you’ve got a story about feeling uneasy, threatened or flat-out in danger on one of Anchorage’s trails. Mine happened this past fall.
We crossed paths a couple of times as we rounded the dog park at University Lake – me with my two fledgling pups, and him, curiously dogless. We nodded and made eye contact – a friendly interaction, but his gaze lasted a little too long for comfort. Now as we both approached the parking lot, I wrangled the smallest of my dogs to her leash and called the other one to my side.
“Don’t worry, I’ve got your dog,” he said. I turned around, my abdomen tightening, but feigning gratitude and attempting to get a hand on the collar without giving up too much ground. He had at least a foot of height on me, and we were alone.
After a short but courteous exchange I headed to my car, with my new acquaintance at my back, following uncomfortably close and persisting in conversation. Finally, reaching my car, I threw my two dogs in, said a silent thank-you that another car was pulling in, and drove away. Three weeks passed before I ventured back alone.
Objectively looking back at the incident, I was probably in minimal danger. It was midday on a popular Anchorage trail. But despite logic, the experience had me on edge. The truth is, when we hit the trails, there are a lot of risks that we simply accept. When I asked a co-worker if she had an experience where she felt unsafe on a trail she cited mostly moose and the occasional errant biker as her biggest fears – and, in reality those dangers are much more common. Statistically, I’m at greater risk driving to a trail on my bald summer tires than entering one in broad daylight.
But, as Anchorage continues to approach a record year of homicides, six of which have occurred on Anchorage trails or in parks, our collective guard as trail users is going up. In fact, Brad Muir, an organizer with the local Trail Watch program, cites increased interest in volunteer participation with the program. The surge of volunteers (110 since May) is not unlike the program’s inception in 2003, when “several well-publicized incidents on Anchorage trails systems prompted significant community safety concerns,” he said.
That’s not all. On Oct. 4, The Anchorage Press released an article about the increase in Anchorage’s violence. The associated Facebook post was inundated with clicks, slowing the hyperlink almost to a standstill. In mid-November, KTUU aired a similar story, examining the fear associated with the recent killings, along with what investigators are doing to stop it.
And we persist. We’re reading blogs of dubious credibility, speculating about cryptic Nixle alerts and narrating wide-eyed retellings of it all. It’s driving us crazy and, despite the surrounding fear and tragedy, we seem drawn to it.
Blame it on my obsession with true-crime podcasts, but I’m no different. I’m an ardent user of trails. Yet I probably contributed to the bottleneck of web traffic that slowed the Press article’s hyperlink.
So, why are we doing this? I’m not entirely sure. I do know I have my reasons. Sure, I’ll say it’s to stay informed and safe, but really I’m somewhat fascinated by it all, and I suspect I’m not alone. Yet, even as new developments come closer to solving some of the more troubling homicides this year, it feels a bit early to throw caution to the winds.
The truth is, there’s real fear out there – and good reason for it. Even as recent evidence brings us closer to answers, an understandable leeriness still informs our trail choices. As for me, I won’t be giving up my true crime obsession or my trail use any time soon. But, you can bet I’ll keep my eyes up, my ears open and my feet on the trails — because I love getting out there — fear and fascination be damned.
Sarah Zerkel is an Anchorage freelance writer.


The Outdoor Writers Association of America has announced Chris Batin is a 2016 Excellence in Craft, four-time, first-place winner in its national awards competition, including best outdoor column in the United States.
“I’m proud of my association as a writer and editor for Coast magazine,” Batin said. “It shows that a small Alaska-based magazine has the vision to allow me to crank out creative magazine features and outdoor literature that can beat out the exceptional work and talents of top journalists working at the largest newspapers and magazines in the country. It’s truly the case of David vs. Goliath that this regional, free monthly magazine can go head-to-head and win out against established national media with multi-million-dollar budgets.”
In the OWAA national competition, out of 707 total entries, 64 individual winners received 123 awards, plaques and prize money totaling $13,678. The average winner pocketed $214. Because of his unprecedented four, first-place sweeps in the highly competitive magazine category, Batin received $886. All entries must have been published in a printed magazine or on a website (e-zine).
Batin won first place for “Best Column” in the United States for columns that appeared in Coast magazine. Criteria for all entrants required submitting three columns on any outdoor recreation, nature or conservation topic, and submitted from newspapers, magazines, websites and blogs across the United States or Canada. Batin’s columns included a story on the importance of investing in family time via the outdoors, a conservation essay on the importance of Alaska salmon, and an introspective piece on intergenerational fishing. He competed against veteran journalists who submitted entries from the San Francisco Chronicle, Sawyer County Record, and other major newspapers and magazines across the country.
In the magazine division, Family Participation/Youth Outdoor Education Category, sponsored by Realtree, Batin won first place for “Through the Ages,” that appeared in Coast magazine, which described a 92-year-old grandfather who takes his 14-year-old grandson on his first Alaska fishing trip.
In the magazine category awards, sponsored by the Ocean Conservancy, Batin won first place for “Praise the Salmon” that appeared in Coast magazine, an essay on why he holds Alaska salmon in such high reverence among sportfish. He also received first place in the Gear/Technical Category for “DEET: The Four Letter Word,” which appeared in Coast magazine, and was a humor/technical story on how to effectively use insect repellent. In the magazine humor category, he received a third-place award for “Cold Case” that appeared in Coast magazine.
In an earlier, separate competition sponsored by the Northwest Outdoor Writers Association (NOWA) at their annual spring convention at Diamond Lake, Oregon, Batin also received seven additional regional writing and photography awards and prize money in six competitive categories in NOWA’s 2016 Excellence in Craft awards.

The NOWA awards were as follows:
First Place – Article in Website, E-zine, or Blog (“Photographing Alaska’s Northern Lights”)
First Place – Photography in Website, E-zine, or Blog (“Adventuring Alaska’s Stikine Wilderness”)
First Place – Travel, Camping, Recreation Article (“Kayaking Among the Alaska Icebergs”)
First Place – Fishing Article (“Through the Ages, Grandfather and Grandson Adventuring Alaska”)
Second Place – Managing Our World (“The Alaska Family Who Fishes Together, Stays Together”)
Third Place – Humor on Any Outdoor Subject (“Racing from the Rain, Alaska”)
Third Place – Article on Website, E-zine, or Blog (“The Bear Necessities: Surviving in Bruin Country”)

“It’s an honor to be recognized with these awards by the talented professionals in the Northwest Outdoor Writers Association,” Batin said. “These articles showcase Alaska as I know it best; from firsthand experience with its residents, in-depth interviews with its visitors and conveying the wonder of its many natural resources in a cutting-edge style that appeals to today’s reader. It is humbling to win against such talented writers and some of the largest and best publications in the Pacific Northwest.”
Batin’s entries were chosen from articles and columns that he writes each month for Alaska Coast magazine, an outdoor-recreation magazine based in Anchorage. Batin serves as the magazine’s Fishing Editor and Editor at Large. He is also an award-winning contributing writer for Outdoor Life magazine, is the longtime Alaska Editor for TravelAge West magazine, and is editor-in-chief and publisher of Alaska Angler

An Alaska outdoor photojournalist for over 41 years, he has been featured on the covers of 14 national magazine covers, is the author of nine books, and is the recipient of over 120 writing and photography awards for his Alaska coverage that has appeared in regional and national publications.
He is the 2013 recipient of the Enos Bradner award, given by NOWA for a lifetime of professional excellence and achievement. Veteran outdoor writer Doug Kelly listed him in Chapter 25 as one of “Alaska’s Greatest Outdoor Legends” in an award-winning book by the same name recently published by the University of Alaska Press. Batin also wrote the foreword for the book and served as a consultant.

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