Trail friends

by • November 1, 2016 • ASSA IntroComments Off on Trail friends181

As season approaches, embrace multi-trail use with a smile

Walking through the woods this last week, I was reminded of how fast the seasons change here in Alaska. This was the last few days of moose season and as I waited for one to come out and give itself up to me, I had some time to reflect on the coming season. Couple that with being a fairly crappy hunter to begin with gave me a lot of time to reflect.

A couple weeks will go by before you are forced to read this rambling from me, and by that time we will have officially begun the winter season. The first swap meet of the year here will already be over and I can see towed four-wheelers and boats being regularly replaced by snowmobiles on trailers. While it is a bit early to get them on the ground in most places, it is a great sign that everyone is thinking snow and actually getting some preseason work and tuning done. Tuning is what I call it when I rev one of the machines up loud enough so I can’t hear Cindy ask me when I am going to rake the leaves.

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Racers pose for a group photo at the end of the 2014 Tired Iron event on the Chena River in Fairbanks. Photo from SnowRider file.

I know that this will surprise everyone who knows me, but I can’t wait until the snow is on the ground. The summer was a great one for most of the state, both weeks of it. It likely was a pretty good summer all the way around, but the rainfall totals at the end tended to overwhelm the memory of a hot sunny start to the season.

As most know, we are from Los Anchorage with all its city conveniences. With that location comes the city’s drawbacks as well. Crowded streets, loud traffic and, most of all for us, the inability to ride anywhere unless you first trailer and tow your snowmobiles somewhere else. Unless you are on private property, in the largest city in the state with the largest snowmobile population, you are totally unable to take your snowmobile anywhere – not on the Hillside, not on the flats near the Inlet, not the Kincaid area, not anywhere that traditional use has occurred. Given enough snow cover, you can ride in Chugach State Park on the Hillside, Eagle River or down in Bird Creek, but you have to tow to get there. Given that the Municipality of Anchorage spends an incredible amount of money each year on ski and bike trails, you would think that there should be some equity.

The Mat-Su Valley and the Kenai Peninsula Borough have figured out this piece of the recreation puzzle. While recreational access is booming in these areas, they also are aware of, and supporting, the more subsistence value of the snowmobile access venues. The rivers and swamps of these boroughs are turned from tourist attractions to commerce-supporting avenues in which residents of the river and mountain areas of our state haul in winter supplies.

Building supplies, food, fuel, medicine, and any other good that you routinely see on the backs of rigs plying our highways are transshipped via freight sleds to some of the most remote locations in Alaska. While there are several commercial operators that haul winter freight for a living, most of it is done by the Bush resident themselves. Many times the trail systems that they used were routes pioneered by dog sleds, mining claim owners or adventurers a hundred years ago.

While one of the consistently lamented sources of conflict that the Muncipality of Anchorage has used for decades in their successful blocking of any meaningful snowmobile support has been the loud opposition of urban nonmotorized groups to the sharing of “their” trailheads and routes, this opposition is almost nonexistent outside of the urban setting. Rural advocates of snowmobiling, dog sledding, fat tired biking, skiing, skijoring and other uses coexist in mutual support.

Groomed snowmobile trails, and ungroomed ones for more skilled afficionados, tend to form the base for all other participants to make use of the public lands we adore. Each group has self educated to basic backcountry interaction norms that tend to add value to the encounters each group has with each other.

There are certainly exceptions, but they are the exception, not the rule. As snowmachiners, we will pull off the trail with our engines off to allow passage of a dog team or group of skiers. Oftentimes, due to skiers or bikers hearing us first, (I know, I know…) they are waiting on the side of the trail as we pass by. A simple shut off of your machine and helmet removal for a quick greeting goes a long way for these contacts.

Enough rambling for now, I will save some more for later. Keep an eye out in SnowRider for SnowTRAC updates and if you have something to share with the community, send it in – pictures, club information or any other cool things you come across are all things we love to hear about.

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