The 2017 Alaska Trails Statewide Trails Conference is set for April 20-22 at BP Energy Center in Anchorage, and this year’s event not only addresses best-trail practices, projects and supporters throughout the state, but also stresses the importance of public lands in a not-so-supportive political landscape.
“We hope to have a keynote address that will speak to this,” said Steve Cleary, executive director of the nonprofit Alaska Trails, which hosts the annual event.
After much public outcry over a Public Lands Initiative aimed at privatizing much of Utah’s protected federal lands, the conversation in the outdoors industry has turned toward self-preservation. If the current administration does not value these public lands, what does this mean for the industry, which relies heavily on public lands?
Cleary said while the threat to public lands is real, the conference will focus on its local mission, forging ahead with plans and presentations aimed at energizing trail stewardship across the state.
“We want to admit that there will be (political) challenges and try to chart a way through that,” he said. “Many of the presenters will have their own way to address this, but overall we are excited by the possibilities for trails in 2017 and beyond.”
For those seeking specific trails-building education, there will be a pre-conference session titled “Trail Design and Layout,” led by Mike Shields April 18-19. The two-day class, held from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. each day, will feature a day of classroom work followed by field exercises that cover the basics of sustainable trail design, routing and layout. The cost is $300 per person.
New this year, Cleary said, is the addition of a volunteer trail maintenance program called Alaska Trails Stewards.
“We will showcase it at the conference,” he said, adding that volunteers can attend the Saturday, April 22, sessions for free.
“There will be training specific to volunteers that day,” he said. “By then we will have a calendar of volunteer opportunities for the summer.”
Another addition, he said is a session titled Active Transportation, which he hopes will attract more engineers and transportation planners.
“We will be linking trails to bike and pedestrian facilities in a broader network that promotes health and economic development,” he said.
Registration for the conference can be made at the website, Alaska-trails.org, and Cleary said the small but passionate group continues to push for the best trail practices throughout the state.
“The average trail user might not attend the conference, but they appreciate the dedicated people who do, and the people who do come to the conference are very into trails,” he said.
— Melissa DeVaughn