I recently wrote a commentary for the Alaska Dispatch, which the editors headlined “Old battle scars revealed in Anchorage trail planning tussle.” Though my primary intent was to inform readers about the municipality’s new trail-planning effort, the commentary did reveal that the project team’s initial outreach has resurrected calls for a trail that connects Kincaid Park and Potter Marsh. Presumably this would become an extension of the existing, and exceedingly popular, Tony Knowles Coastal Trail.
Anchorage residents who utilize and appreciate our city’s trail system will likely recall past heated disputes between Coastal Trail-extension advocates and opponents. Thus the headline’s “old battle scars” reference.
I devoted only a small fraction of my essay to the Coastal Trail extension, and also discussed several other issues that the Anchorage Trails Plan project team has so far identified, yet nearly every person who commented on my piece chose to address the extension (one comment had nothing to do with the story).
Though my sample size is admittedly small—only four people chose to air their opinions—a couple things strike me. First, each of the four was clearly an extension proponent. Second, each commenter seemed to simplistically regard the opposition as selfish NIMBYs. This troubles me a bit, because it’s not nearly as simple or black-and-white as those extension proponents seem to believe.
I should perhaps say here that I don’t own property along, or near, south Anchorage’s bluffs. So I have no personal interest in fighting the extension. And there was a time, a decade or so ago, when I wanted the city to extend the Coastal Trail beyond Kincaid, and saw no good reason not to do so. Then I began to learn more about the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge and the important—some might say critical—habitat it provides for nesting birds, from sandhill cranes to arctic terns, Canada geese, a variety of ducks, and other birds. It is also an important stopover for birds heading elsewhere, including large flocks of cranes, snow geese, and several species of shorebirds. Some people who know the refuge well, including biologists, emphasize that any trail extension along the coastal flats would almost certainly disrupt those birds, especially the nesters. Which means that at least some portions of the extension—perhaps most of it—would have to located along the bluff tops. And that presents its own set of complications, which does indeed have to do with property owner resistance.
My point is this: opposition to the Coastal Trail extension is not, as various commenters suggested, simply about “garden-variety greenie obstructionist tactics,” nor is it only because of organized NIMBY homeowner resistance. Perhaps an appropriate extension route can be figured out; but there’s a reason that earlier pushes for it died.
I walk the Coastal Trail year-round with my faithful hiking companion, Coya, and I’d love to see the Coastal Trail extended, but only if assured it wouldn’t harm refuge wildlife or destroy existing coastal habitat important to birds and other critters. And I would say the selfish ones are extension advocates who don’t give a hoot about the animals who depend on the refuge’s land and waters.
One other point: I worry that this obsession with the Coastal Trail extension will complicate and perhaps take over the city’s new trail-planning process and distract from other pressing issues, some of which I discussed in my Alaska Dispatch commentary. I suggest that those who want to know more read that piece (see link above). And perhaps also check out the municipality’s trails plan page.
As I wrote for the Dispatch, “If you care about local trails and want to have a say about how they’re managed, now’s the time to get involved.” But don’t get bogged down in the Coastal Trail extension. There are plenty of other local trail issues that also require our attention.