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‘Look How Pretty It is!’: Trails Group Working to Rehab Land for Park, Trail Along Delta River

Tim Ellis/KUAC

A Delta Junction-based organization is cleaning up junk from an area around the town’s old dumpsite to clear the way for construction of a new park. The Delta Junction Trails Association’s proposed River Walk Park would offer locals and visitors stunning views of the eastern Alaska Range and serve as a hub to a communitywide network of trails.

Delta Trails Association members Mindy Eggleston and Carol Austin hike down a gravel road leading to the old dumpsite that area residents had used for decades until the city shut it down in the 1980s.

“This is where the amphitheater area would be,” Eggleston said, just before the group entered a clearing that served as a viewpoint for Mt. Hayes and other jagged peaks of the Eastern Alaska Range.

“Look how pretty it is!” Austin exclaimed as she, Eggleston, and Delta City Administrator Mary Leith all gazed at the peaks to the west.

“And the thing is, when you get up in here, and there’s that beautiful view,” Leith said. Eggleston and Austin were giving her a tour of the proposed site of River Walk Park, just off the Richardson Highway on the north side of town, across from the Delta State Recreation Area campground.

Eggleston, the Trails Association’s steering committee chairperson, offered a progress report on the project to Leith as they hiked through areas where work has already been done.

“This is the old shooting range area here,” Eggleston said at the first of several places the group stopped to take a look. “There used to be a pile of dirt that was utilized as the backstop.”

The shooting range was set up near the dumpsite by some locals back in the 1990s, then closed by the city in 2008, after it had become a nuisance. A few years later, Trails Association members proposed cleaning up the area and transforming it into a park and 2-mile trail along the Delta River. The park also would serve as a sort of nexus for a communitywide trails system that’s accessible year-round.

Credit Tim Ellis/KUAC
Eggleston points out features in the park plan to Leith during a meeting at the Delta State Recreation Area campground, across from the proposed park site.

“So you would be able to start at the fairgrounds,” she said, “ski those trails, come across, into the city park – through the city park – cross the highway, to here.”

The organization built the Liewer Trail, across from the Deltana Fairgrounds, back in 2015. And they’ve developed several others in areas outside of town, including the a four-year project to restore and realign the Bluff Cabin Trail near Big Delta and ongoing work around Quartz Lake State Recreation Area.

But the River Walk Park project would be their most ambitious yet. Eggleston says it’ll provide attractions that would be accessible for everyone.

“This is where the handicapped trail would be,” she said, “and we would, y’know, landscape and make it an interesting deal.”

There’s a lot of enthusiasm for the proposal in the community, Eggleston said. City officials have OK’d the project, and the Trails Association has asked them to help remove some junk that’s still scattered around the city’s 14-acre parcel. Members of the organization have already cleaned up most of the site, including some material left by a contractor the city hired last year to remove soil from the shooting range that was contaminated by lead from all the bullets that had been fired.

“So we cleaned up the mess that was left from the cleanup!” she said, tongue-in-cheek.

Credit Delta Junction Trails Association
The Trails Association's plan for River Walk Park shows details on the area's features.

Eggleston says completion of a state Department of Natural Resources plan to remediate the old dumpsite was the main conditions set by the state before it’ll permit the project to proceed. The park plan doesn’t include the dump itself, which will be partitioned-off from the rest of the project.

Eggleston says the Trails Association has been working since 2013 with help from grants from the National Parks Service’s Rivers Trail Conservation Assistance program. She says the organization also has hired a consultant to help guide through the complex project. It’s also planning to apply for a federal grant administered by the state for trail construction.  

Eggleston says the organization has trimmed back parts of its original plan in hopes that would boost its chances of getting the grant.

“Because funding is tight, and the economy is tight, we’re trying to get the biggest bang out of our buck, for this next grant cycle,” she said.

Eggleston says the Trails Association has budgeted $10,000 of its own money to help pay for the project. Its members have contributed many hours of volunteer work on the project over the past year or so, and they’ve used grant money to pay for planning and design work.

She says if the state OKs the grant in October, the organization hopes to begin work in earnest on the park next spring.

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.