Mat-Su trails

The Mat-Su offers numerous options for those in search of trail systems that are not crowded during the holiday weekend. 

The trend started in 2015 when national outdoor retailer REI decided to shutter stores on the day after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday, and instead tell staff and shoppers to “opt outside.” Since then heading out to play instead of spending the day in stores has only grown in popularity, with fans using the hashtag #optoutside on social media.

In the Mat-Su where heading outside is a way of life year round, nature-lovers might not need an additional reason to go outside this year on Nov. 27. But with COVID cases spiking, they might want some ideas of places to go where they aren’t as likely to meet droves of other fans.

For that, said Wes Hoskins, who leads the Mat-Su Parks and Trails Foundation, he recommends two destinations that stick to an important theme: isolation.

“My main theme would be try to find places where people aren’t,” he said.

First, he said locals should head to Willow and check out Willow Community Trails in Willow. Maintained by the Willow Area Community Organization, the trail system can be accessed off Willow Village Parkway and designated as mixed use.

“Willow has gotten quite a bit of snow,” he said. “They’re flat, they’re well maintained, they’re great for biking.”

A second winter trail option is the Haessler-Norris system, he said. Consistently used by mushers, parking is near Zero Lake in Houston and the system comes with plenty of space to play.

“There’s hundreds of miles of trails out there that are a little bit more wilderness — they are packed but not groomed,” he said. “You’re not going to see a lot of people out there and you can go for miles.”

Maps for both recreation areas are available on the Outer Spatial app, Hoskins said.

The state’s parks also make a great Black Friday destination — especially for those who are trying to save a little money. As in years past, the state is waving parking fees that day, officials announced this month, as an incentive to get residents outside following their Thanksgiving festivities.

For locals who also want something to do on Thanksgiving Day itself, there are a few Valley-based group outdoor options.

For runners, a free Turkey Trot fun run is planned for Palmer starting at 10 a.m. at the Depot.

The run was organized by Sutton resident Robin Ace as an alternative to driving to Anchorage for a Turkey Trot traditionally organized by Skinny Raven Sports.

“The whole family would go to Anchorage every Thanksgiving, and I asked ‘why is there not one out here?’” she said.

Runners and walkers are asked to wear face masks during any pre- and post-event gatherings, she said. Due to COVID restrictions the Depot will not open for bathroom use as originally planned.

“Once you are running and distanced away from people, you can take your mask off,” she said.

At Government Peak Recreation Area the Palmer High School nordic ski team is working with the Mat-Su Ski Club to host a 4.7km “Turkey Trax” fundraiser cross country ski race. Racers can compete anytime between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. and registration fees are $20 for an individual, $10 for a student or $30 for a family. Contact the Palmer Moose Nordic Ski Team Booster Club for registration.

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