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New Trail on Ester Dome in the Works

Fairbanks, AK - The Fairbanks North Star Borough, the State Department of Transportation and an area trail users group are in the beginning stages of a cooperative plan to build a new trail along Ester Dome Road.  The trail would be used for the annual Equinox Marathon, but it’s also a way to improve safety for runners, bikers and other residents who regularly use the road for recreation.

It’s unlikely any trail construction will happen along Ester Dome Road before 2015.  That’s because the process involves at least one grant funding application and discussions with the state’s Department of Transportation.  The Borough Assembly would have to weigh in.  But all of that would happen only after Director of Parks and Recreation Mike Bork feels he’s thoroughly assessed the opinion of residents who live in the area.  “One of the concerns that I had heard from several people that own property or live up there is the potential for increased traffic.  There’s already quite a bit of use on the roadway, bikers, runners, various users,” says Bork.

But heavy use is one of the reasons the Interior Trails Preservation Coalition is looking into constructing a trail. Stan Justice is a member of ITPC. “The one thing that we’ve heard again and again as we had meetings was that people complained about all the runners and cyclists on the road and so we felt that getting a trail next to the road should be a high priority to relieve that problem,” says Justice.

ITPC would like to see just over three miles of trail built within the 100-foot-wide state right-of-way along Ester Dome Road.  The proposed trail would become part of the Equinox Marathon Trail, but Justice says it would also be open for use beyond the annual foot race.  “It would be very open to anyone who wanted to use it could use it," explains Justice.  "For example there are people who have children that get dropped off by the school bus down by sheep creek and right now they have to walk on the road and this would give a place for kids to walk to get home.  Cyclists, runners, walkers - anyone that would rather be off the road than on the road would be able to use this trail.”

Trails use and construction on Ester Dome is contentious.  The Dome itself is what Justice calls a “patchwork quilt” of private land, State Mental Health Trust property and mining claims. But Borough Trails Coordinator Tom Hancock says he sees increased support for recreational trail use in the borough.
“More and more people are out whether it’s summer time or winter time, it seems each year it increases, not only because of interest and recreation, but a lot more people are moving into the area," Hancock says.  "In addition to that, as areas build out, we’re always going to see conflicts with residents and trail users.” The Borough hosted a public meeting earlier this month to gauge public opinion and dispel misinformation about the plan.  Tom Hancock and Mike Bork say the Borough is likely to host many more meetings as the planning process continues.