Photo Credit: Frank Kovalchek

Collaboratively Unearthing the Past

December 8, 2017

By Katherine Schake

At a unique curve in the Kenai River, known today as a late-season silver salmon ‘hole’ by locals and named for its color, Turquoise Bend has been discovered as an 800-year-old semi-permanent winter village site of the Denai’na. To the Kenaitze Indian Tribe, this site is not only a cultural landmark and direct link to their ancestral heritage, but also represents a deep spiritual connection to a place that represents a holistic way of life that has persisted for generations.

Roughly ten thousand years ago, as the glaciers retreated from the most recent ice age, new plants sprouted on thawed ground, transforming glacial moraine into a carpet of food that encouraged animals to disperse into new territory. Nomadic Athabascans followed these animals across interior Alaska and eventually 11 distinct linguistic groups emerged. One of these, the Dena’ina, established semi-permanent settlements and fish camps throughout southcentral Alaska. The Kenai River Valley was especially abundant. Each summer four major salmon runs reliably returned, providing enough fish to last through the winter months.

What does one do, today, when a sacred place such as Turquoise Bend is located on private property?

Funded in part through a grant from the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm (KMTA) National Heritage Area, the Kenaitze Indian Tribe and Chugach National Forest spearheaded a community archaeology and outreach initiative to collaborate with local landowners and archaeologists in addressing the challenges of preserving cultural heritage sites while enabling future investigation of archaeological features in the Kenai River Valley.

Ground Penetrating Radar Workshop
Photo by David Guilfoyle

As a result of the initiative, partners, including Applied Archaeology International, the Kenaitze Indian Tribe, BE Surveys, and private landowners worked over this past summer to protect and manage cultural places such as Turquoise Bend. The team succeeded in mapping out an archaeological signature of a nichił, a traditional semi-subterranean log home built to house multiple families. Using Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), archaeologists were able to identify the size and shape of the main home along with sub-surface hearths without disturbing the surface. This non-invasive method is supported by both Tribal representatives and private landowners.

“The landowners were great to work with. There were some cultural differences that they were very willing to hear about, learn about, and work with. I feel like we could have a good conversation that was respectful of the land,” said Joel Isaak, Cultural Coordinator of the Kenaitze Indian Tribe.

The river, salmon and ancestral features are all a part of the integrated management goals of this community project. Elders, youth, landowners and archaeologists teamed-up to excavate the Dena’ina settlement site, survey cultural plants, examine the condition of the river bank, and perform site restoration activities.

Test excavations reveal cultural layers extending 800 years before present and subsurface artifacts. Photo by David Guilfoyle

The excavation also revealed a cultural deposit at 45 centimeters (approximately 18 inches) below the surface. One large nichił and two smaller nichiłs were found with identifiable house features such as cold storage where dried salmon was buried in underground pits for overwintering. Cache pits of charcoal and mounded fire-cracked rock, called middens, were radiocarbon dated to approximately 1178 AD. The midden is the designated place for emptying the hearth and may contain charred food scraps, artifacts of the house and burnt rock fragments. The frequency of middens found in the Dena’ina village complexes point to a social norm of keeping a home clean and tidy. Unfortunately, this particular midden had been impacted, unknowingly, by land use activities, and speaks to the importance of building collaborative efforts to preserve cultural heritage sites.

One of the most admirable outcomes of this past summer’s work was the synthesis of scientific research and cultural protocols within a model of community outreach.

According to David Guilfoyle at Applied Archaeology International, “Much of the work to protect cultural places is focused around on-ground environmental management, and so there is a lot of overlap with the goals of landowners and environmental groups. These projects demonstrate a need to embrace cultural heritage places, and work with Tribes to protect our shared natural and cultural landscapes.”

Overall objectives for this multi-year project include continued mapping and surveying of archaeological sites in the Kenai River Valley; the establishment of on-ground site protection along with an integrated management plan supported by Tribal representatives, landowners and archaeologists.

Funding and support for the Turquoise Bend archaeology project was provided by the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area. For more information about this and other National Heritage Area projects visit kmtacorridor.org

Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm CCA Board Awards New Grants

November 18, 2017

By Katherine Schake

The Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm (KMTA) Corridor Communities Association (CCA) Board of Directors held their annual fall meeting on October 18th, 2017 at the newly constructed Bison Hall at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. In addition to fostering partnerships within the Kenai transportation corridor, the association receives and administers funds, approporiated by Congress and other sources, to support locally initiated community projects. Since 2010, KMTA has granted $826,000 to local communities’ grassroots projects leveraging $1,300,000 in community investment. Past projects funded include an award-winning high school curriculum, new museum exhibits, trail restoration, interpretive signage, and construction of Bison Hall.

During the fall meeting, the Board reviewed recent applications and has awarded three grants determined to enhance and preserve the area’s historic, cultural, scenic, and outdoor recreational resources. The awards are as follows:

  • The Historic Begich Towers Inc. Preservation Project was awarded $21,343 to upgrade plumbing for the bathrooms in the 15-story building and to connect with the recently repaired large sewer mains. Built in 1956 by the US Army Corps of Engineers, Begich Towers is on the Alaska Historic Registry and is located in the town of Whittier. Residents have committed to repaying a 3 million dollar loan from the US Deptartment of Agriculture for the entire building to undergo an extensive remodel. In addition to housing private residents, there are public facilites in the building including restrooms, a laundromat, the post office, police station, and city offices. Historic interpretive displays, funded by KMTA in 2016, are also located in the building and explain to visitors the significance of Begich Towers to the community of Whittier.
  • The Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association was awarded $1,432.50 to enhance the Trail Lake Hatchery Visitor Center educational program. The funds will be used to install a video system that will showcase films related to hatchery operations and the importance of sustainable salmon populations in the Cook Inlet Region. The films will enable visitors to take a self-guided tour of the hatchery, expanding the current educational program.
  • The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC) was granted $21,837 for a fiber optic and technology upgrade which will build a platform to deliver high speed internet to AWCC. This will fund the audio/visual and classroom needs of the newly constructed Bison Hall. High speed internet will not only create a fundamental platform for future technology needs, but will modernize the existing wildlife outreach and interpretation programs.

Additional grants may be awarded as the Board continues to review proposals. More information about KMTA grants can be found here: http://www.kmtacorridor/grants/

Alaska’s Past is Still Being Written

November 4, 2017

Kenai History featured in Trails Across Time: History of an Alaska Mountain Corridor

Ever wondered about the quartz veins in the road cuts along the Seward Highway? Did you know Johnson Pass hasn’t always been a recreational trail – prospectors blazed it in the 1890s and it soon became a wagon road thoroughfare. Want to see the coastal geography of Alaska through Captain Cook’s eyes in 1778? Or perhaps you’d like to learn how stone lamps dating back to 2000 B.C. reveal a history of multi-cultural use on the Kenai Peninsula.

An updated 2017 edition of Trails Across Time: History of an Alaska Mountain Corridor features riveting new stories and photos about Alaska’s first and only National Heritage Area. Originally published in 2005, Trails Across Time explores the historic trails, tracks, and waterways of one of Alaska’s most scenic places. From the geologic forces that shaped the landscape to Native trails, a gold rush, and the eventual building of a railroad and highways, the area reflects the broader history of Alaska. The valleys and mountains, communities and people of this unique place tell the larger story of a wild place and a rugged frontier.

Published by Ember Press, the book is a publication of the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm (KMTA) National Heritage Area. The KMTA National Heritage Area is one of forty-nine Heritage Areas across the nation. Established in 2009 through an act of Congress, the KMTA National Heritage Area mission is to recognize, preserve, and interpret the historic resources and cultural landscapes of the Kenai Mountains–Turnagain Arm transportation corridor.

Author, Kaylene Johnson-Sullivan is a long-time Alaskan whose books include Our Perfect Wild: Ray & Barbara Bane’s Journeys and the Fate of the Far North (University of Alaska Press, 2016); Canyons and Ice: The Wilderness Travels of Dick Griffith (Ember Press, 2012); A Tender Distance: Adventures Raising My Sons in Alaska (Alaska Northwest Books, 2009); and other books, articles, and award-winning essays. She is the executive director of the KMTA National Heritage Area.

For more information about the National Heritage Area, please visit: www.kmtacorridor.org

Bison Hall Opens to the Public

October 20, 2017

By Katherine Schake

Photo by Michelle Richter, AWCC

On October 10th 2017, satellite internet and phone lines were installed in Bison Hall at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC), putting the finishing touches on a two and a half year construction project. The educational center includes five new offices located in the upper level, a multipurpose program hall, classroom, food center, and restrooms on the main floor. With some lingering work remaining on the community kitchen, Bison Hall is now 99% complete and the doors have opened for public events.

“AWCC is a sanctuary dedicated to preserving Alaska’s wildlife through conservation, research, education and quality animal care,” shared Dianna Whitney, Director of Operations at AWCC, “The education department and its programs are central to our mission.”

At 6000 square feet, the new Bison Hall will enable AWCC to enrich their educational programs including spreading the word about the wood bison reintroduction project, the building’s namesake. Additionally, in partnership with University of Alaska Anchorage, AWCC is developing new high-quality Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) curricula for school groups.

David Reka-Suma, AWCC Outreach and Volunteer Coordinator teaches first field trip in newly constructed Bison Hall. Photo by Michelle Richter

The first school group of 2017 filed into Bison Hall early October to observe AWCC’s Porcupine Presentation. Over 100 participants comfortably settled into the lecture hall to meet Snickers, one of the resident porcupines, and to learn about his life from AWCC Naturalists. This is the first of many “Portage Fieldtrips” where students also have the opportunity to walk outside, exploring the many species of animals housed throughout the 200 acre property including moose, bison, caribou, bear, muskox and more.

Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area (KMTA NHA) provided two separate grants of $24,500 each to support the construction of Bison Hall. KMTA NHA supports projects that recognize, preserve, and interpret the historic, scenic, and natural recreational resources and cultural landscapes of the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm historic transportation corridor, and promotes and facilitates the public enjoyment of these resources. KMTA’s Board met on October 18th at the new Bison Hall to consider grant applications for the coming year. For more information visit www.kmtacorridor.org/grants/

Animal Enrichment Workshops are scheduled in Bison Hall the first Saturday of every month through April 2018. Participants will help develop toys for the animals housed at AWCC and enrollment is free with purchase of an AWCC entry ticket. “These workshops are a wonderful opportunity for you to volunteer and help our critters at the same time.” For more information, visit www.alaskawildlife.org. To book an event at Bison Hall email events@akwildlife.org or call 907-783-2025.

Award-Winning Alaska Curriculum Available for Primary and Secondary Students

September 27, 2017
By Katherine Schake

“Can we do it again?” is a common response of youngsters working through “The Art of Gold Panning” lesson developed by Marc Swanson for the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area (KMTA). This newest lesson offers students an authentic experience panning for gold, testing metal conductivity, learning specific properties of metals, distinguishing between density and weight of materials, and discovering the historical drivers of gold panning in Alaska.

KMTA provides curriculum for primary and secondary students that enable youth of Southcentral Alaska to learn about their backyard through inquiry-based learning. Through field trip excursions and examining historical maps, photographs, and documents, students are immersed in the art and science of historical research – all while learning about the colorful characters who shaped the KMTA corridor into what it is today.

Marc Swanson of Seward, Alaska was granted funding by KMTA beginning in 2012 to develop this curriculum in conjunction with a Teacher Training Program. Swanson integrated historical stories of the land and people of the eastern Kenai Peninsula while creating engaging and accessible Alaska Studies lessons explicitly tied to State content standards. Over the past several years, he collaborated with numerous volunteer editors, videographers, narrators, and musicians on this project. The Governor’s Office recognized Swanson as the 2016 Alaska Studies Educator of the Year through the Awards for the Arts and Humanities program, a collaboration between the Alaska State Council on the Arts, the Alaska Humanities Forum, the Alaska Arts and Culture Foundation, and the Office of the Governor.

Two separate curricula have been developed for primary and secondary students, with supplemental materials applicable to all ages:

• Designed for elementary and middle school students, This is Now and That was Then: Stories that Weave through the Eastern Kenai Peninsula, is an award-winning educational film series consisting of 12 short episodes. Each episode focuses on a landmark within the KMTA corridor such as Mt. Marathon, Exit Glacier, the town of Hope, and Moose Pass. Historical details of these features are discussed, and then lessons launch into broader stories of the region. The Booklet Guide and Field Trip Notes provide teachers with lesson tools to accompany the film series and highlight the history of the KMTA corridor. This film, narrated by local students, received the 2nd place National Association of Interpretation Digital Media Award.

• The high school Alaska Studies program will be greatly enriched by Trails across Time Curriculum, based on the book Trails Across Time: History of an Alaska Mountain Corridor by Kaylene Johnson. Resources for teachers include: Full Curriculum consisting of 10 Lessons; A Reader’s Guide to Trails Across Time; and Exploring the Corridor: Selected Field Trip Stops. These lessons ask students to look around them – to observe the landscape and culture that they may take for granted – and discover the story etched there.

A plethora of supplemental teaching resources are also available on the KMTA website. An index of topics includes Exploration; Geology; Indigenous People; Russian Alaska; Transportation; Individual Stories; and more. Under each topic there are lists of relevant books, news articles, maps, multimedia online resources, and KMTA curriculum chapters. The relevancy of each resource is rated and bookmarked page numbers provide teachers with quick and easy access to desired materials. For instance, under “Mining” links are provided to the Prospecting and Mining Journal where students can read about Alaska’s Hope-Sunrise Mining District while referencing the Kenai District Mining Map from 1910.

The Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm (KMTA) National Heritage Area strives to recognize, preserve, and interpret the historic resources and cultural landscapes of the KMTA corridor. The KMTA curriculum tells the stories of the land and people, as it enables students to explore and discover the historic, cultural and natural resources within the KMTA Heritage Area. For more information and to access the full curriculum packages, visit the KMTA website: http://www.kmtacorridor.org/curriculum-guide-title-page/

KMTA Board Meeting Scheduled For October 18

September 7, 2017

The Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm CCA Board of Directors will be meeting October 18 at 1 p.m. at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage. The meeting is open to the public. The Board will be considering grant applications for the KMTA National Heritage Area program for the coming year. KMTA NHA grants are offered to communities to promote and preserve the historic,

September explorations of Gull Rock Trail outside of Hope.

cultural, scenic and recreational resources of the KMTA National Heritage Area. Projects supported by past KMTA grants include trails, historic preservation, monuments, murals, and educational programs. The grant deadline is September 22.

 

For more information visit www.kmtacorridor.org/grants/

 

Fall 2017 Grant Cycle – Deadline to Apply Friday, September 22nd

August 10, 2017

The Kenai River-Turnagain Arm (KMTA) National Heritage Area is pleased to announce our Fall 2017 call for grant applications. The deadline to apply is Friday, September 22, 2017 at 5:00pm AKDT. Now in its eighth year, KMTA’s grant program provides funding to local communities to develop projects that recognize, preserve, and interpret the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm’s historic, scenic, cultural, and recreational resources.

Four Valleys Community School summer students have increased scholarship access thanks to a KMTA grant.

Since its inception in 2009, the competitive grants program has provided more than $800,000 funding to local heritage development projects. Local grants have supported the development of school curriculum, recreational trail improvements, the creation of interpretive signs, and much more. KMTA is one of 49 National Heritage Areas across the nation with funding appropriated by Congress through the National Park Service.

 

Application instructions and grant criteria can be found on KMTA’s website at: http://www.kmtacorridor.org/grants/. The minimum criteria for interested applicants requires that your project is:

  • Located within the Heritage Area (this includes the communities of Seward, Moose Pass, Cooper Landing, Hope, Whittier, Girdwood, Bird, and Indian
  • Sponsored by a community, non-profit or government organization
  • Consistent with the Heritage Area’s purpose to increase public awareness and appreciation for the natural, historical and cultural resources of the Heritage Area.
  • Commits a minimum match of funding for at least 50% of the project’s costs.
  • Will be completed within a 12-month period following selection by the KMTA Board of Directors.

 

All grant applications must be received by September 22nd, 2017 at 5:00pm to be considered for this cycle. The review process will be completed within approximately six weeks of the application deadlines. Applicants are notified of their award status in writing.

 

If you would like more information about KMTA’s Fall 2017 Grant Cycle, visit: http://www.kmtacorridor.org/grants or contact Jessica Szelag at jessica.n.szelag@gmail.com.

National Heritage Area Sites to Visit

June 13, 2017

Discover the story in person

Learn something new about your favorite places this summer:

Alyeska Roundhouse Museum   Summer, 9:30am – 6:30pm

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center   May – Sept., 8am – 8pm

Williwaw Nature Trail, Agents site, www.discoveryagents.net

Begich Boggs Visitor Center May 27 – Sept. 18, 9am – 6pm

Prince William Sound Museum   9am – 7pm

Hope & Sunrise Historical Museum   Memorial – Labor Day, 12pm – 4pm.

K’Beq Footprints interpretative site   Summer, 10am – 4pm Thurs. – Sun.

Cooper Landing Museum   May 15 – Sept. 15, 12 – 5pm Wed. – Mon.

Moose Pass Library   New exhibits debut June 17, Hrs. (907) 288-3111

Seward Library &  Museum * May 16 – Sept. 16, 10am – 5pm, Fri. – Sat.

Seward Cable House  (Park of Seward walking tour – interpretative panel outside building)

Note: winter hours vary.

Discover new and classic trails in Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm NHA

May 30, 2017

September explorations of Gull Rock Trail outside of Hope.

From the shores of Prince William Sound, through glacially carved Kenai Mountain passes, to Turnagain tidal flats, trails have long connected diverse ecosystems and peoples of this mountainous region. Today, recreational trails within the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area (KMTA) offer a variety of terrain, length, and difficulty. Bike a beloved backcountry trail, or explore a secret gem of alpine access. This assemblage is an introductory sampling of outstanding trails in the KMTA area, listed south to north.

Iditarod Trail, Seward

Distance: 1 mile

Terrain: Paved bicycle path

Trail use: Walking and biking

Trailhead: Starts at the Milepost 0 Tripod marker near the Alaska SeaLife Center in downtown Seward. The trail runs north along the shoreline of Resurrection Bay.

 

A list of KMTA trails would not be complete without including the economic and social lifeline of Alaska’s gold rushes, the Iditarod Trail. The National Historic Iditarod Trail is a 2,300-mile network of trails used for subsistence and trade. The celebrated trail starts in Seward, where travelers today can use a 1-mile paved bike path and visit the Iditarod trailblazer Jujiro Wada memorial.

Primrose & Lost Lake

Distance: 15 miles

Terrain: Gradual climb of 1,600 feet through spruce forest to open meadows, hemlock, and alpine ridges

Trail use: Hiking, difficult biking; horses allowed after June 30

Trailhead: Primrose: Mile 17 of Seward Highway, travel west 1 mile to Primrose Campground. Lost Lake: Mile 5 of Seward Highway, follow signs up gravel road of Lost Lake subdivision.

 

This popular trail with buckets of alpine lakes is one of the author’s favorites, whether for backpacking or a big day trip. Consider bringing a fishing rod! Linking Primrose and Lost Lake trail is an elegant point-to-point with a short shuttle ride along the Seward Highway. There are five designated campsites on the trail. Bring your camp stove; no fires allowed above tree line. Snow often lingers in the alpine until mid-July.

Russian Lakes Trail, Upper & Lower

Distance: 21 miles

Terrain: Accessible broad path, gentle climbs over the first 3.5 miles of Lower Trail; narrower multiuse trail overlooking wooded rivers and slopes beyond Barber Cabin

Trail use: Hiking, biking; horses allowed after June 30

Trailhead: Lower (north): Mile 52.6 of Sterling Hwy, turn south into Russian River Campground and continue 1 mile. Upper (east): Mile 48 of Sterling Hwy, travel south on Snug Harbor Road for 9 miles, continue on Cooper Lake Road an additional 3 miles.

 

Listen to the Russian River and look for adventures big and small. From the Lower Trailhead, Russian River Falls is a destination 2.4 miles in with benches and rocks to scramble. Three Forest Service cabins may be reserved at recreation.gov. Barber Cabin, first one from the Lower Russian Lake Trailhead, is 3.5 miles in and wheelchair accessible.

Crescent Creek Trail

Distance: 6.3 miles to Crescent Lake, optional bushwhack extension of 8 miles along Crescent Lake Trail connecting with 3.4-mile Carter Lake Trail

Terrain: Rolling and gradual climbs through birch-aspen forest and mountain meadows

Trail use: Hiking, biking; horses allowed after June 30

Trailhead: Mile 45 of Sterling Highway, south onto Quartz Creek Road past the campgrounds to Mile 3.3.

 

Climb to a long lovely lake and linger. Campsites are located along the wooded shoreline, or reserve the Forest Service cabin. An epic through-hike is possible for those willing and able to tussle with Chugach brush and stream crossings along the southern shore of Crescent Lake to the Carter Lake Trail. This offers a steeper descent to the Seward Highway.

Resurrection Pass

Distance: 39 miles

Terrain: Rolling forest floor, gentle switchbacks to assist in the climb from 500 to 2,600 feet

Trail use: Hiking, biking; horses allowed after June 30

Trailhead: South: Mile 53.2 of the Sterling Highway. North: Mile 15 of Hope Highway, turn south onto Resurrection Creek Road for 4 miles on gravel road to the trailhead.

 

A classic hiking, horse-riding, or biking trail in the summer and ski route in the winter. Eight Forest Service cabins along the route can be reserved and several designated campsites are located amongst spruce forests, lakes, and tundra with seasonal wildflowers and berries. The nearby town of Hope was the first established during the Turnagain Arm gold rush.

Gull Rock Trail

Distance: 5.7 miles

Terrain: Flat, forested, numerous boardwalks, last miles include short steep sections and narrower tread

Trail use: Hiking, difficult mountain biking; horses allowed after June 30

Trailhead: Mile 17.8 of the Hope Highway, turn left on Forest Service signed road to a one-way parking lot ¼ mile from the Highway or access trail from end of the Porcupine Campground.

 

Of any trail within KMTA, Gull Rock offers a flavor of Turnagain Arm with numerous overlooks and a few social trails to rocky beaches. Avoid walking out to the mudflats because the mud can trap hikers and tidal change can be large and rapid. The parking lot above Hope Highway starts with ~1/2 mile of rolling hilly trail before reaching a toddler-friendly flat section of the Gull Rock Trail. This lot is the trailhead for the steeper Hope Point Trail as well. Campground access leads directly to the gentler trail. The final miles include ascents to a couple of small alpine slopes and tantalizing views of the rocky outcrop at the end of the trail. Backcountry campsites are available at the trail’s end. Gull Rock Trail will see early-season improvements thanks to a USFS-led Alaska Trail Stewards volunteer work party this June.

Johnson Pass Trail

Distance: 23 miles

Terrain: Forested climb to subalpine meadows

Trail use: Hiking, biking; horses allowed after June 30

Trailhead: North: Mile 64 of the Seward Highway, South: Mile 32.5 of the Seward Highway.

 

A popular, varied trail for day, overnight, and biking trips, this trail is also known for the need for careful trip timing, especially by bike. Too early, and the trail is still too muddy to sustainably travel on. Too late, and vegetation obscures the trail and sight line. Spruce and hemlock open to wildflower meadows over a gradual 1,000-foot ascent. Travelers can pause at waterfalls and Johnson Lake and overnight at Forest Service designated campsites. The north trailhead is connected to Granite Creek campground and the Hope Highway junction via a paved bike trail along the Seward Highway. Alaska Trail Stewards also plans a summer work party to brush out this trail.

Byron Glacier

Distance: 1.4 miles

Terrain: Flat, gravel then rocky with some standing water

Trail use: Hiking

Trailhead: Follow Portage Glacier Road to the Begich Boggs Visitor Center and turn right/south on the Portage Lake Loop. Stay right on Bryon Glacier Road, and watch for signs to the trailhead.

 

Bring your friends and family to meet a glacier close-up in a way that allows for exploration of ferns, creeks, and snowfields along the way. Byron Glacier is easily visible from the end of the trail. Beyond, boulders deposited by the glacier at its terminus can be a challenge if you choose to negotiate them. Climbing on the glacier is dangerous and should only be undertaken with appropriate training and equipment.

Williwaw Nature Trail

Distance: 1.25 mile loop

Terrain: Well-maintained walking trail with boardwalk over bog

Trail use: Walking, biking

Trailhead: Mile 4 of the Portage Glacier Road at the Williwaw Fish Viewing Platform.

 

The Williwaw Nature Trail hosts a delightful diversity of habitat, history, and human use. From the fish-viewing platform, pass under the highway bridge and travel along Williwaw Creek. The trail crosses Portage Road before connecting to the Trail of Blue Ice; be careful at the crossing. To complete the loop, follow the signs through the Williwaw Campground from the Trail of Blue Ice. Visitors with smartphones can pull them out to learn a bit more about local residents by playing the Agents of Discovery Mission Site (discoveryagents.net). Download the app before you arrive or at the Begich Boggs Visitor Center.

Palmer Creek

Distance: 1.5 miles to lakes, optional ridge and peak access beyond

Terrain: Gradual climb to lakes, possible stream crossings

Trail use: Hiking

Trailhead: Mile 15 of Hope Highway, turn south onto Palmer Creek Road, continue 12 miles to end of gravel road, last 5 miles are narrow and rocky.

 

Worth the drive or the bike in, this secret gem of alpine access gives glimpses of Hope’s past and present. There are both both gold mining remnants and a handful of current claims. Glaciers carved two hanging lakes, from which you may strategize a further ridge ramble.

Crow Pass

Distance: 24 miles to Eagle River trailhead

Terrain: Starts uphill with steep sections and switchbacks, some scree, alpine meadows, riparian, and one major river ford at approximately mile 12

Trail use: Hiking

Trailhead: Mile 2 of Alyeska Highway, turn left on Crow Creek Road, continue 5 miles on this gravel road to bridge and turn right uphill. The last mile of road to the trailhead is narrow.

 

Transition from temperate rainforest to alpine wildflower slopes in 3 lung-pumping miles that earn you 2,080 vertical feet. Variety is the spice of this historic and picturesque trail, one of the National Historic Iditarod Trail routes over the Chugach Mountains. Mining remnants are found 1.7 miles; at mile 3 is a Forest Service cabin along Crystal Lake; a bit farther along the trail is the summit of Crow Pass with tremendous views including Raven Glacier. This challenging trail is worthwhile as a day-hike to the pass or as a multi-day trip if you continue on to the Eagle River trailhead in Chugach State Park.

Beaver Pond

Distance: 2.5 miles

Terrain: Wooded, rolling trail with short, steep climb from northern access

Trail use: Hiking, biking

Trailhead: North: Mile 2 of Alyeska Highway, turn left on Crow Creek Road (gravel) and travel 1/2 mile, just before California Creek bridge; South: 1/2 mile west of Girdwood on the Bird-to-Gird Pathway, look for sign.

 

Find some quiet woods or a surprise view of Turnagain Arm just a stone’s throw from downtown Girdwood. This locally cherished connector trail has seen recent improvements stewarded by the Girdwood Trails Committee and weeks of additional work are planned for the summer of 2017.

 

As you explore old favorites, please keep in mind that other users you meet might be there for the first time. Demonstrate trail etiquette: treat others with courtesy; let slower users know when you are approaching; yield to horses and pedestrians. Be a sustainable friend to the trails; travel elsewhere if they are so muddy that you would leave ruts.

 

More trail descriptions can be found on KMTA’s bike trail map (biking-in-the-kmta-corridor), the Chugach National Forest website (www.fs.usda.gov/recmain/chugach/recreation), Kenai Fjords National Park (nps.gov/kefj/planyourvisit/hiking.htm), and Chugach State Park (dnr.alaska.gov/parks/units/chugach/chooseactivites.htm).

 

Current trail conditions can be researched at Chugach National Forest Recreation Updates (www.fs.usda.gov/detail/chugach/home/?cid=stelprdb5402427) or contacting the local Forest District Office. Cross Country Alaska (www.crosscountryalaska.org/trails/) provides visitor-sourced updates.

Spring grants build bridges

April 23, 2017

Four Valleys Community School summer students will have increased scholarship access again this summer thanks to a new KMTA grant.

From a new steel beam bridge across California Creek in Girdwood to a storytelling project between elders and youth in Seward, Kenai Mountains Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area awarded grants to connect people to places and their stories at the April 12 Board meeting. National Heritage Area grants are designed to promote local participation in communities discovering their stories.

Girdwood and surrounding Turnagain Arm communities proposed three local projects approved by the KMTA Board for the upcoming year. Girdwood’s Town Square interpretative signs will be fabricated and installed this summer, the Four Valleys Community School, serving families throughout Turnagain Arm, will again offer scholarships for their youth summer Adventure Camps, and the Girdwood Trails Committee will lead the replacement of the failing California Creek Bridge.

Further south in the Kenai Mountains corridor, projects for Portage, Cooper Landing, and Seward were awarded funding. The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage is in the finishing stages to open a new indoor educational facility. The new Snug Harbor Pathway in Cooper Landing will see facilitated community design of an interpretation and user amenities plan. Seward students will have the opportunity to interview elders and share their stories by producing and publishing multimedia iBooks.

Community-driven partnerships

These six infrastructure and education projects serve KMTA missions of historic interpretation, education of the public, particularly youth, historic trail development, assistance to local interpretative centers, and community development. KMTA awarded up to $52,215 for the 2017 spring round of community grants, to be matched by at least $99,467 in support from volunteers donating their time, donations of building and educational materials, and matching funds.

KMTA will contribute $5,000 to help replace the damaged California Creek Bridge on the Lower Iditarod National Historic Trail. The new bridge will connect the old Girdwood Townsite to the new Girdwood Townsite, linking miles of trails that weave past beaver ponds and through dense forest on a route traveled by the Dena’ina people, miners and trappers, and current valley residents.

The Seward PTA will initiate an Elders Sharing project among Seward K-12 students, the Qutekcak Native Tribe, Seward Providence Mountain Haven, Seward Senior Center, Seward Boys & Girls Club, Jesse Lee Home alumni, and Seward individuals. Elder-student partners will compile photographs, videos, artifacts, and accounts to create interactive iBooks using iPads installed with the iBook Creator App. Finished iBooks will be published and freely available. Some will likely be shared on the KMTA website.

Renewed projects

The Girdwood Town Square signage project, Four Valleys Community School (FVCS) Adventure Camps, and the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center’s (AWCC) Bison Hall completion are all follow-up investments by KMTA to complete or renew outstanding projects. Girdwood residents, including students, contributed to the design of four interpretative signs in the Town Square Park exhibit. The signs will be fabricated and installed this summer. Last summer, with KMTA scholarship support, 50 youth participated in FVCS Intensives, as well as an additional 18 in Field Sports and 23 in their Olympic Games. This summer’s programs will include Intensives in “Girdwood Goldrush Days” and “Rivers & Hydrology”. AWCC plans to complete Bison Hall this year, providing an indoor and sheltered-outdoor facility for furless, non-hibernating humans to learn about resident animals and habitat.

New Planning and Design

The Cooper Landing Walkable Community Committee led the effort to secure Federal Highways funding for a 1.8-mile bike/pedestrian path along Snug Harbor Road, improving the safety of non-motorized access to the Cooper Landing Senior Center and public recreational trails. The next step in this recently completed construction project is an interpretation, beautification, and waste management plan with local guidance and landscape architectural expertise. Community workshops are planned for this summer to develop a final design that can then be used to place amenities like benches, signs, and garden beds where desired.

These projects are possible because of strong community involvement and the rich geological and cultural landscape of this coastal mountain corridor. Future grant opportunities can be found on the KMTA website.