STA’s vision continues to create singletrack for cyclists
Remember some contentious Far North Bicentennial Park User Group meetings nearly 10 years ago. User conflicts boiled over in the summer of 2004 when the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage (NSAA) attempted to maintain the Hillside ski trails by widening and smoothing the trail surface to make it friendly to ski grooming during periods of low snow. Mountain bikers came out of the woods to protest what they perceived to be a threat to the trails.
Two delegates from each user group – Nordic skiing, dog mushing, skijoring, orienteering, equestrian and mountain biking – joined peace talks aimed at creating mutual understanding before any monkey wrenching happened out on the trails.
Introductions were made. “Hi, I’m Janice Tower and I am a mountain biker. Oh, and I also ski and snowshoe, and I have huskies so I guess that means that I skijor, too.”
One by one, the delegates confessed to enjoying this jewel of a park by many modes, wearing a variety of warm hats, so to speak. We looked around the room and realized that we had met the enemy and they were us. The user group representatives sat across the table and worked through their differences to avert a trail war right there on the Hillside.
Leonard Fancher is one of the founding members of Singletrack Advocates (STA), the mountain-biking advocacy organization that grew out of the mayhem.
“There was some conflict between the trail users and I felt that it was blown a little out of proportion,” he said. “I thought that it was very doable that the trail user groups would be able to work together and share the (park) areas.”
What was clear to everyone was that mountain bikers were the new kids on the block. They should build their own trails since the features that mountain bikers enjoy—roots, rocks, bumps, and swoops – were nuisances to the ski club. Since government wasn’t going to magically create mountain biking trails, the group set out to learn everything it could about creating trails as a grassroots effort.
Alaska Trails, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help fledgling groups like STA, brought the International Mountain Bicycling Organization to Alaska in 2005 to teach mountain bikers how to design and construct sustainable trails. As a demonstration project, STA created Brown Bear trail with sweat equity. The hand work through dense forest and thickly layered root mat was back breaking, so much so that the group took three months to build the one-mile trail. STA vowed to build their next project by machine.
STA hired Jon Underwood of Happy Trails, a professional trail builder, to design and construct an eight-mile network of mountain biking trails on the Hillside. The project was completed in 2008 on time and under budget, and received rave reviews by mountain bikers, runners, hikers, snowshoers and backcountry skiers.
Two years later, plans were under way to install singletrack in Kincaid Park. I’ll be the first to say that I doubted that we would ever breach the perimeter of this zealously guarded world-class system of cross-country ski trails. We had just tangled handlebar to ski pole with the skiers and didn’t think we’d stand a chance at gaining permission to crisscross these meticulously groomed ski trails with a tangle of singletrack.
Jim Burkholder, one of the icons of the ski community, immediately saw the benefit of bringing diversity to Kincaid Park. By basing the mountain biking network out of Jodhpur Trailhead we would bring park users to the area to reduce mischief in this oft-used trailhead. In addition, providing multiuse trails in Kincaid would reduce foot traffic on groomed ski trails during winter.
Ben Powell, NSAA’s lead groomer, didn’t hesitate to lend his support.
“Trails are for people!” he exclaimed – not just skiers, but all recreationists as long as they weren’t assisted by a motor. Powell worked with STA vice-president and project manager Lee Bolling to carefully locate the trail crossings at the top of hills, where trail users on both networks would be moving slowly.
Bolling’s vision for Kincaid was simple: If you build them, they will come. Mountain bikers flock to the Kincaid STA Trails – nine miles of singletrack completed in 2011 with the help of 244 volunteers who donated 2,170 hours of labor to hand finish the trail tread.
Anyone who helped to hand tool the tread can lay claim to a section of trail. By creating a sense of ownership of the trails, STA reinforces volunteer commitment to maintain them and create new ones in the future.
Under Bolling’s leadership, Kincaid gained approval to build six more miles of trail to the north of Raspberry Road that will create a loop around the entire park from Raspberry Road trailhead to the Coastal Trail. The multiuse singletrack trails open the park to all users during winter when the ski trails become single use for skiers.
Singletrack Advocates has made good on its mission to preserve, maintain and create singletrack trails in Anchorage. When completed, this summer’s trail project will comprise a total of 24 miles of multiuse singletrack in Anchorage.
Construction on the Kincaid North Singletrack Project begins in mid-July. All trail users are welcome to dig in the dirt during twice-weekly volunteer trail work sessions. No experience is necessary. For more information and updates on the trail building progress, visit www.singletrackadvocates.org.