Parks officials and a group of local outdoor-recreation focused nonprofits are inching closer to completion of a large new park area in the Valley.
Located near the end of Knik-Goose Bay Road and tucked against the inlet, Settlers Bay Coastal Park is a 295-acre area with both pedestrian and stroller friendly walking paths and several miles of winding single track trail. With three Borough-maintained outhouses and parking areas, the park is designed to attract a range of users year-round.
The park, which had its initial ribbon cutting in 2019, currently features four trails — three walking and one signtrack --, with two more single track trails and a walking trail connecting the nearby Settlers Bay Golf Course still in the development phase.
Most recently park developers have started work on an ADA-accessible path and viewing platform overlooking the Cook Inlet, a project that went on temporary hold over the summer after a bald eagle nest and eaglet were discovered in the location. Officials expect that project to restart soon and the path, platform and several benches to be completed this fall.
“It’ll meet the needs of the community,” said Ellen Kazary, executive director of the Alaska Great Land Trust, which has spearheaded the park’s development. “To make it official and permanent, I just love that.”
A parade of visitors experienced the new park August 14 as part of the Settlers Bay Exploration Day hosted by the trust. That group, which focuses much of their work on protecting salmon habitat, purchased the land for $1.4 million, then donated it to the Borough for management. But the trust has continued to fund trail and other recreation development in the park through donations and grants, including about $200,000 in grants from the MatSu Parks and Trails Foundation.
The exploration day included information tables and activities from a variety of organizations including the Great Land Trust, the parks and trails foundation, Alaska native tribe representatives and Valley Bikers and Hikers.
Acknowledging the land’s original owners and protecting both their heritage sites and salmon habitat is an important part of the park’s development, said Fran Seager-Boss, who was at the exploration day representing both the Dena’ina and Ahtna tribes. Trail developers worked with the tribes to avoid disturbing tribal heritage areas through surveys, she said, including 28 historic native house builds.
“In partnership with the Great Land Trust, it helps us preserve the sites,” she said.
The Arctic Orienteering Club also attended the exploration day, hosting a series of three orienteering courses in the park. Club president Mike Robinson said he hopes those courses become an annual event at the park or even spark a club extension in the Valley.
“You could possibly get a chapter of the club going out here,” he said. “Kids love orienteering.”
The club typically places up to five courses of varying difficulty at each of their events, most of which are currently held in Anchorage, he said. Settlers Bay Coastal Park offers an ideal location for the course because, for example, the wooded areas aren’t overly thick, he said.