PALMER — Government Peak Recreation Area has brought a new standard of trails to the Mat-Su Valley, with the first lighted ski trails in the Mat-Su Borough.
The Valley Mountain Bikers and Hikers are blazing a new trail that will enable access at the recreation area for an often overlooked user group. The club is currently constructing the first Americans with Disabilities Act compliant trail in the Mat-Su Valley at GPRA. Recently elected VMBaH Executive Director Alida Van Almelo related the construction of the new trail with the mission for the club.
“Building trails, building community, and so what’s great about this trail is that we are building a brand new trail. It’s one of a kind. It’s an ADA compliant trail that meanders and weaves right through the woods and gets out to this gorgeous scenic overlook and picnic table, thereby expanding our community for a totally new user group,” said Van Almelo.
The VMBaH volunteers that are working to build the half-mile long stretch of trail through the existing Pioneer Loop broke ground on Aug. 12, and have put in more than 200 volunteer hours to construct the trail since then. The way GPRA is configured, Pioneer Loop is reserved for fat biking and skijoring in the winter, without the dramatic inclines featured elsewhere along the ski trails. The new ADA trail follows much of Pioneer Loop, with several sections of new trail that weaves in and out of the existing ski trails.The ribbon cutting for the ‘Pink Wild Rose’ trail will be held on Oct. 5 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“It’s an investment in the future of everyone in our community, but it also is just a way for us to continue getting people outside, which I think in turn makes the world a happier place,” said Van Almelo.
To comply with the ADA, the trail must not exceed an 8.33 percent grade, and has minimum and maximum requirements for how sharp the turns along the trail can be. The trail can only reach a 10 percent grade for 40 feet, and eight percent for only 200 feet.
Gronewald Volunteers have assembled on weekends, joining contractor Mark Gronewald of Trailwerx on the project. Gronewald has been working on trails in the Mat-Su Borough for decades, including many of the original single track trails at GPRA along with trails at Crevasse Morraine, Hatcher Pass and others. Gronewald and volunteers cut a four-inch trench along the right edge of the existing Pioneer Loop for a full bench trail on the new ‘Pink Wild Rose’ route. The name ‘Pink Wild Rose’ is part of the story of how the trail came to fruition. Roy Wahl had attended a wedding at GPRA where one of his close friends, Amy Schooley, was unable to leave the parking lot. Seeking an avenue to create a trail for wheelchair-bound nature enthusiasts, Wahl approached the Mat-Su Borough and Mat-Su Trails and Parks Foundation for guidance. Wahl then brought the idea to VMBaH who applied for a grant from MST&PF.
Biking trails at GPRA are named after wildflowers, and the Pink Wild Rose is Schooley’s favorite flower. The trail is a mile-round trip that meanders over rivers, through woods, and ends at a picturesque picnic table overlooking the Chugach Mountains. Volunteers from far and wide have come to assist in pulling roots and rocks out of the ground to prepare the surface for compacted D1 gravel.
“It’s been rewarding. I like being out in nature so being out here doing even this kind of stuff, grunt work, it’s fun and you just feel like refreshed,” said Career Tech High School student Jayce Tack.
Tack joined her Alaska Youth for Environmental Action advisor Galen Sparks in clearing trail, and VMBaH has had assistance from not only local volunteers, but Air Force airmen with Alaska Healing Hearts that came out to help. VMBaH board member Cody Johnson wrote grant applications to help fund the $35,000 project. Much of the funds for the design and construction came from grants from the Mat-Su Trails and Parks Foundation. While Johnson and VMBaH are still seeking additional funding to complete the trail, community members have stepped up to donate $275 loads of gravel for the trail. An avid trail user himself, Johnson is painfully aware of how little opportunities are offered for wheelchair bound individuals.
“It’s immeasurable the significance to the Valley. As someone who’s been involved with VMBaH, we’re as guilty as any other organization. User groups that have mobility issues are often overlooked,” said Johnson. “It opens up the access to trials in the Valley which are some of the most beautiful trails in the entire state, opens them up to a completely overlooked user group and it’s broadening the inclusivity of trails to a group that previously had no access.”