Anchorage Trails System Adds to Quality of Life

By Julie Madden

The Anchorage Trail System includes paved and non-paved multi-use trails such as cross country ski trails, dog mushing trails, hiking trails and skijoring trails .

The trail movement and history

The Anchorage Trail systems offers 400+ miles of trails to a city of 250,000 residents. Weaving its path through communities, businesses and two universities as well as following six lane roads packed with vehicle commuters, the trails offer a recreational and transportation opportunity to all of residents. Every trail is accessible via front door or public transportation.

One unique feature of the Anchorage Trail System is its diversity of trails and their users. Offering a wide scope of recreational opportunities has motivated a wide range of interests and advocacy. The trails include paved and non-paved multi-use such as cross country ski trails, dog mushing trails, hiking trails and currently, skijoring trails have been implemented to meet the needs of this newly active group. Prior to the 1950's trail users, advocates and enthusiasts existed throughout the city. This interest has continually grown over the years reaching a high into the 1990's.

During the early 1970ís, the need for a more livable city was recognized by local residents and trails were seen not only as recreational opportunities, but as transportation entities much needed with the rapid increase of subdivision projects. In 1971 the first "Bike Day" was held promoting the need for bicycle trails within the city. Initiated by bicycling enthusiasts, this event prompted the development of the Anchorage Trails Council in 1974. The Anchorage Trails Council, comprised of trail advocates from different recreation interest groups, outlined visionary trails on one comprehensive map. This map reflected shared and overlapped recreational trail areas. Once completed, this map was presented to the city who immediately supported long range trail planning by designating a city planner to develop the city's first integrated trail plan. Additionally, with the implementation of "community councils" into the city charter during 1975, community involvement in trail projects increased.

Less than a decade later, the initial trail plan was updated and community members once again became more active in the planning process. The plan was revised in the early 1990's taking the city's trail plans into the 21st century. With this renewed interest in long range trail planning, advocates were promoted to come back together forming the current, Anchorage Trails and Greenways Coalition.


An extremely broad range of partners have joined City efforts supporting a comprehensive trail system. Specifically, many outdoor recreational groups have partnered with the City building, maintaining and advocating trails throughout the region. These groups which include equestrians, dog mushers, snowmobilers have been consistently active in the Anchorage trail movement supporting their club's individual interests. In addition, other private interests such as local businesses have partnered with the City promoting the trail system.

Today, two high profile trail groups exist supporting a wide range of regional trail issues and users. One of these, the Anchorage Trails and Greenways Coalition (ATGC) provides a strong and broad support for trail users within the area. Their primary goal is to be an umbrella trail organization voicing the concerns of each of the special interest groups.

The other formal group includes the Far North Bicentennial Park Trail Users which was formed in 1989. This group's main focus includes the Bicentennial Park which borders the city limits and its connections to several other trails. The main role of this group is to address multi-use issues and implement solutions to alleviate user conflicts. Monthly meetings open to all park and trail users have been initiated to address these conflicts by the Recreation and Parks Department.

Currently, formal partnership agreements with the city only exist with a partner when their participation includes managing a facility owned by the city. The following information tends to be identified in the agreement, however each agreement is specific to the partner: liability responsibilities; funding needs and sources; general responsibilities of each partner.

The ATGC was created in 1992 to assist in completing the currently revised trail plan. Since the early 1990's, approximately 50 to 60 participants have been meeting on a monthly basis addressing the revisions based from the 1985 master plan. The coalitions key functions include grassroot involvement educating the community and increasing their participation in the planning process. Although the ATGC is fairly new, many of the current members were involved in the original Anchorage Trails Council.

According to Ron Crenshaw, President of the ATGC, several key planning components have been guiding their trail planning efforts. The most successful planning practices ATGC engages in includes:

  • Working on projects located within areas of interest to the city because the municipality is much more willing to assist on trails listed as part of their agenda;
  • Keeping a visible profile by meeting formally, and informally, with public agencies and officials on an ongoing basis;
  • Serving several different roles as a trail organization. For example, the ATGC provides recreational, political and advocacy functions which expands and diversifies their membership base and broadens general support throughout the city; and
  • Attending national and state trail conferences and symposiums learning tips and techniques from other trail planners experiences.

Partnership in Action

Recently, two innovative programs have been coordinated by the ATGC working with several partners. The first program includes the creation and distribution of 15,000 coloring books which reflect trail etiquette related pictures. The books were given to third and fourth graders throughout the city and REI, a nationwide outdoor equipment store, provided the funding for printing these books.

The second program involved ATCG coordinating the implementation of a trail marking system partnering with a local outdoor retailer. ATGC provided the manpower to install the markers and the retailer donated the physical trail markers.

One of the most significant challenges for all the partners is working together planning motorized and non-motorized trail access. Throughout the community, some bias towards motorized groups can be seen. However, the ATGC is bridging the gap by inviting motorized representatives to sit on their board which has increased the communication and cooperative effort among trail groups.

As in many trail communities, planners in Anchorage have experienced some resistance to future trail development. Residents are fearful of potential crime and safety along sections of the trail adjacent to their property. To address their concerns, a police officer attends the trail meeting answering residents questions and providing necessary information. The Police Department is recognized as an active partner throughout the entire trail planning process by this participation.

Other Partners

The partnerships involved in the Anchorage Trail System represent a wide range of recreational, economical and political interests. Although the following list is not complete, it represents many of the partners working with the city on past, present and future trail planning and implementation:

  • Alaska Army National Guard
  • Alaska Biathlon
  • Alaska Hiking and Mountaineering Club
  • Alaska Pacific University
  • Alaska Sled Dog and Racing Association
  • Alyeska Prince Hotel and Ski Resort
  • Anchorage Horse Council
  • Anchorage Nordic League
  • Anchorage Police Department
  • Anchorage School District
  • Bureau of Land Management
  • Chugiak Dog Mushers
  • Nordic Ski Club
  • North American Skijoring and Skipulk Association
  • Alaska Department of Natural Resources


Long range and diverse partnerships continue to exist within the City of Anchorage. One need that was identified for continued success includes increasing volunteer activity. Due to potential decreases or leveling of municipal budgets, the City will need assistance in maintenance and operation functions. There is definitely not a lack of support or advocacy for trails within the city, however, providing high quality maintenance to a continually growing trail system will be challenge.

This article is taken from American Pathways: Case Studies in Successful Partnering for Trails and Greenways, jointly produced by the American Hiking Society and the National Park Service (1997).

For more information

Visit Anchorage Trails website at

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