Alaska’s Interior had a very cold winter and a lot of snow. People are still skiing, snowshoeing and hiking on local trails. The state health department has recommended using trails as a way to help physical and mental health while staying far apart from each other. The Fairbanks North Star Borough Trails office has extended the Winter Trails Challenge to help people take advantage of the outdoors.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all of the recreation programs run by the municipality. Pools and parks have been closed and group events cancelled. Staff members have scrambled to put up a “play at home” on-line program with challenges for kids posted every day at 9AM on the borough’s website: parks.fnsb.us.
The only program the municipality is still running is the Winter Trails Challenge. It is still available for healthy individuals looking for an outdoor outlet, although it has been tweaked for the new normal. Trails Coordinator Bryant Wright says the Interior’s hard cold winter and recent snow load … added to quarantine mandates, so the staff decided to extend the trails challenge through the month of April.
“And we were really hoping to have something available to keep people occupied, and conditions outdoors kind of just worked in our favor to allow the Trails Challenge to keep going.”
The Trails Challenge is a short list of some of the thousands of miles of trails in the Fairbanks North Star Borough. Sort of an outdoor scavenger hunt. The Trails office publishes maps and make special signs for each selected trail. You register online, go find the trail, then take a picture of yourself with the sign, to show you’ve been there.
Getting outdoors to exercise is discussed in state health mandate number 11. “Outdoor activity (e.g., walking, hiking, bicycling, running, fishing or hunting) is permitted when a distance of six or more feet can be maintained between individuals not in the same household.”
Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer, Anne Zink, released a video over the weekend showing how Alaskans can still get out if they maintain a good distance from each other.
“Many states have put total shut-down orders where you have to stay inside, but Alaska is beautiful, and being outside can be a good way to be able to take care of your physical and mental health.”
She shows how to wear a facemask to protect others at the trailhead, then keeps her distance from the people she came to exercise with.
Wright reminds people that open public spaces where we go to connect with nature can be vectors for disease.
“We are trying to do this with a healthy dose of caution. It just changes your focus when you do go out.”
Breakup is around the corner, and Wright says that is the time to check on changing spring conditions. When that happens, he wants us to stay off trails and walk instead in a neighborhood or on a bike path.
“Choosing where to go, somewhere hopefully is close to your home, low risk. You don’t want to be getting yourself into unnecessary trouble this time of year.”
The borough trails office has removed one of the longer trails from the hunt because of snow melt creating overflow on the trail. Wright says updates to changing conditions are posted on the borough website.