By Katherine Schake
The Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm (KMTA) Corridor Communities Association (CCA) Board held their annual spring meeting on March 2nd in Girdwood at the Spoonline Café. KMTA is the only designated National Heritage Area (NHA) in the State of Alaska. A designated Act of Congress, NHAs provide funding for locally initiated community projects that protect and promote the cultural, historical and natural assets of the region. The KMTA area is comprised of the north-south road, rail, and trail corridors from Bird to Seward and includes the communities of Girdwood, Portage, Moose Pass, Cooper Landing, Sunrise, Hope, Portage, Whittier, and the wild waters of Prince William Sound.
Since 2010, KMTA has granted $902,000 to community grassroots projects and leveraged $1,515,000 in community investment. Past projects funded include an award-winning high school curriculum, new museum exhibits, historic structure and trail restoration, interpretive signage, educational publications, and the construction of Bison Hall at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.
The spring Board meeting marked significant transitions for KMTA as an organization. Deep gratitude was expressed for both Janet McCabe (former Board President) and Kaylene Johnson-Sullivan (former Executive Director) as they stepped down from over a decade of committed work in their positions with KMTA. The torch has been passed to Dan Walker, new Board President and Jessica Szelag, new Executive Director for KMTA. Dan Walker, raised in Alaska and residing in Seward, is an educator and published writer, was named Alaska Teacher of the Year in 1999, and has been serving on the KMTA Board for several years. Jessica Szelag lives in Girdwood and has been KMTA’s Program Manager for the past 10 months. She is a former Executive Director of a nonprofit in Seattle, and over the past decade has focused her work on transportation projects and policies that encourage pedestrian, bicycle, and transit-oriented development.
Prior to the public meeting, Jessica guided the Board through a strategic planning and sustainability workshop, revitalizing KMTA’s vision and future efforts. During the public meeting, KMTA awarded four new grants determined to enhance and preserve the area’s historic, scenic, and outdoor recreational resources. The awards are as follows:
- Girdwood Mountain Bike Park – $10,000 of funding for the final stages of the Bike Park, which are crucial to providing a completed trail system that is open to the public, reducing congestion on pedestrian trails. This grant will enable the Girdwood Mountain Bike Association to perform final grading of trails, re-vegetation, signage and clean-up.
- Hope Guard Station Restoration – This historic building was marked to be decommissioned, but instead the U.S. Forest Service is donating it to the Hope & Sunrise Historical Society. The grant of $11,675 will cover contractor fees to move the building from mile 11.3 of the Hope Highway to the town of Hope, where it will be remodeled initially as a dry cabin and located at the Hope Museum to assist in the Gold Rush interpretive exhibit.
- Girdwood INHT Bridge Engineering and Design – The Girdwood Trails Committee was granted $2,371 to pay for professional design and engineering of the Iditarod National Historic Trail (INHT) California Creek Bridge, which is required to meet U.S. Forest Service construction specifications. This grant will cover the consultation fees required to obtain an estimate of the bridge construction costs.
- Seward Ididaride Mural – Seward artist Jason Leslie was granted $1,500 to create a colorful tribute to sled dog culture and history of the KMTA transportation corridor.
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/