Rain and chilly weather didn’t dampen the spirits of those who showed up to celebrate the opening of the Kenai Wildlife Refuge’s newest trail on Saturday.
The Ski Hill Multi-use Trail, which runs for 1.5 miles along Ski Hill Road, has been celebrated as a safer way for people to enjoy the area. The refuge welcomed hikers and cyclists, as well as dog-walkers to the refuge’s only dog-friendly trail.
Michelle Ostrowski, who oversees the refuge’s Environmental Education Program, greeted users at the visitor’s center trailhead. In addition to offering maps of the trails, Ostrowski also facilitated some of the activities offered, which included the certification of new B.A.R.K. rangers, a scavenger hunt, nature exploration worksheets and geocaching.
A group bike ride also departed at 2 p.m. Kaitlin Vadla, a volunteer with Biking in Kenai & Soldotna (BIK&S), helped lead the group and praised “groups partnering together to celebrate a great new trail in our community that just makes it more bikeable and walkable and safe for everybody to get around,” Vadla said.
The new trail was made possible by a successful grant application co-sponsored by the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and the Alaska Department of Transportation through the Federal Lands Access Program. Trailheads and parking are located at the north and sound ends of the trail, as well as at the visitor’s center in the middle.
In addition to allowing hikers, dog-walkers and cyclists, the trail is also ADA compliant, though some hikers said they were surprised by the gradients on the northern section of the trail.
Barbara McNinch, who walked the trail with a friend, said that the gradient of the hill before the visitor’s center trailhead going south was unexpected.
“I think a new trail is the most exciting thing that can happen,” McNinch said. “It’s just surprising me that it’s this steep and they’re calling it for strollers and bikes … but you know, a person could walk on the road and come through here and then make a loop.”
The trail will be maintained during the winter months and so will be accessible to all types of visitors year-round.
Park Ranger Leah Eskelin, who helped welcome visitors on Saturday, said that the timing of the trail’s opening made the event more special.
“I think this has been such a challenging year, that, for us to have an opportunity to come together in a safe way, as a community and just spend some time together, apart, it’s meeting that goal for sure,” Eskelin said.