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‘It’s Really Fun!’ Delta Junction Celebrates Opening of New Trail

Tim Ellis/KUAC
Members of the Delta Junction Trails Association greet area residents who turned out for the Sept. 11 opening of the River Walk Park Trail.

Library Launches Family-friendly 'Story Walk' Attraction for Local Hikers' First Peek at new River Walk Park trail

A Delta Junction-based organization has completed the first phase of work on a new trail that offers stunning views of the eastern Alaska Range as it winds through a stretch of old-growth boreal forest. The Delta Junction Trails Association celebrated the opening of River Walk Park with a feature that lets kids read while they’re getting some exercise.

About a hundred people showed up on a recent sunny Saturday for the official opening of River Walk Park trail, including families that came to enjoy a leisurely hike while reading a story about elementary school students who love to get out and play – even when it’s nippy outside.

Tim Ellis/KUAC
Eighteen storyboards like this one are placed along the Story Walk portion of the River Walk Park trail, each depicting a page from local author Cindy Lou Aillaud's book, "Recess at 20 Below." Each panel also includes an activity below the page for kids to participate in as they tread the trail.

“It’s fun to see the kids that are here and that are finishing now and looking like they enjoyed themselves,” says Delta Community Library Director Tiki Levinson. “So, it’s really fun!”

Levinson was talking about a family that had just come back from the Story Walk that she and a few others had set up along the River Walk trail. The Story Walk features 18 signboards placed along the 1.6-mile trail that show each page of a book titled “Recess at 20 Below.” It’s a story written by local author Cindy Lou Aillaud about kids who brave the cold to get out onto the playground.

“And then there’s activities,” Levinson said, “which Cindy helped me develop, that go along with the story. So it’s physical activity and getting outside and literacy all together.”

Tim Ellis/KUAC
Cindy Lou Aillaud and her sister, Darcy, greet visitors at the trailhead. In background, from left: Mindy Eggleston, Trails Association president; Joanne Singer, member; Tiki Levinson, member and city library director; Marianne Czmer, member; and visitors.

Aillaud, another Trails Association member, said she was honored that Levinson chose her book to inaugurate the Story Walk.

“It was her idea, and she selected my book as the first” to be featured for a story walk, Aillaud said.

And it was great idea, based on what families were telling Levinson after taking the Story Walk.

“Did you guys have fun?” she shouted to the family members as they emerged from the trail.

“Yeah!” she kids shouted back.

“Did you do some of the activities?” she asked.

The kids sort of stammered, before dad answered: “Yeah, all of ’em.”

Levinson – who worked as a school librarian before the city hired her – persisted, as educators do: “All of them or not all of them?”

Mom clarified: “All of them!”

Levinson, appropriately enthusiastic, applauded their participation. “All of them? Oh, cool! … Awesome! I’m so happy that you guys came.”

Tim Ellis/KUAC
The Trails Association hopes to continue development of River Walk Park and trails next spring.

Delta Trails Association President Mindy Eggleston says that’s the reception by kids that members had hoped the Story Walk would generate during the grand opening of the trail.

“We are so excited that this is happening!” she said. “These people maybe wouldn’t come without a draw like this. So it’s exciting to see an event happen like this that would draw all of these unique trail users.”

Eggleston says the Trails Association is planning to develop many other attractions during the next phase of the River Walk Park project.

“We are developing a park,” she said, “and this is the first phase, which is the heart of the park. And then we’re going to build around that.”

Phase one included some of the most challenging work like cleaning up the area, which was used as a shooting range set up next to an old dumpsite the city closed in the 1980s. The reclamation of the land has helped attract funding for the project, including a $75,000 federal Recreational Trails Program grant, matched by a total of $10,000 from Golden Valley Electric Association, the City of Delta and local donors.

Eggleston says more funding will be needed for the project’s next phase.

“If we can come up with a hundred thousand dollars,” she said, “we should be able to do quite a bit of the parking, the river-viewing area and then the bike features and single-track.”

Eggleston says the Trails Association also plans to provide access to the parking lot for ATVs. But the River Walk trail itself won’t be open to motorized vehicles. And even though the seasons are changing, she says they’ll try to keep the trail groomed over the winter for cross-country skiiers – who, like the kids in the book, just want to get out and play, even if it’s nippy outside.

Editor's note: This story has been revised to clarify that the $75,000 grant came from Federal Highway Administration's Recreational Trails Program.

Tim Ellis has been working as a KUAC reporter/producer since 2010. He has more than 30 years experience in broadcast, print and online journalism.