In this December 2016 photo, the sun peeks through the trees on the Tsalteshi Trails system near Soldotna, Alaska. The Tsalteshi Trails Association has applied to the Kenai Peninsula Borough for a Community Trails Management Agreement to expand the popular trail system to the south, providing a space for non-skiers to enjoy the trails in the winter. (Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion, file)

In this December 2016 photo, the sun peeks through the trees on the Tsalteshi Trails system near Soldotna, Alaska. The Tsalteshi Trails Association has applied to the Kenai Peninsula Borough for a Community Trails Management Agreement to expand the popular trail system to the south, providing a space for non-skiers to enjoy the trails in the winter. (Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion, file)

Tsalteshi applies to expand trail system

More trails may be coming soon to the Tsalteshi Trails system.

The nonprofit Tsalteshi Trails Association, which maintains about 25 kilometers of trails in a wooded area just south of Soldotna that are widely popular for a variety of recreation, has applied to the Kenai Peninsula Borough for a Community Trail Management Agreement to develop some trails on another borough-owned piece of land. The tract stretches along the west side of the Sterling Highway across from Central Peninsula Landfill just south of Skyview Middle School, where the Tsalteshi Trails have a trailhead.

Tsalteshi is a much-loved trail system in the central Kenai Peninsula that hosts a variety of sports events, from the competitive skiing Besh Cup to the Salmon Run Series, a number of community races throughout the summer. A trick-or-treat event each Halloween attracts hundreds of families to wander one of the shorter trails and pick up candy. The trails bear names of native Alaska animals, labeled both in English and in the Alaska Native language of Dena’ina.

Over the years, as the trails become more popular in all seasons, there has been increased interest in multi-use trails in the winter. Most of Tsalteshi’s trails are ski-only in the winter, and as more people are interested in winter running, hiking, snowshoeing and fat-tire biking, they also want to use the trails, said Tsalteshi Trail Association Board President John Pothast.

“Over the past few years, the requests for groups for non-ski purposes have really been growing,” he said.

Under the agreement, the association would be able to develop and maintain a nonmotorized, human-powered, multi-use trail system in the area, though the borough would retain ownership. The land is part of a Refuse Buffer Zone, purchased to surround Central Peninsula Landill during the 1990s, said borough Land Management Director Marcus Mueller.

The Community Trail Management Agreement is a tool established in borough code in 2009 that allows nonprofit and community organizations to manage public trails, trail corridors and related facilities on borough land with the approval of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly and the Planning Commission. However, this will be the first time it has been used, Mueller said.

“The code was designed around trail and trail-type uses,” he said. “Tsalteshi is, of course, a very compact trail-type system. There are other types of trails that are very different than that. (For example) the Caribou Hills Cabin Hoppers … they’re long trails that might touch borough lands in a variety of locations.”

The borough didn’t have a specific purpose in mind for the land, but it will hang onto ownership and work with the association on designing the trails in case the land is ever needed for landfill purposes, he said.

“The trail designs are fairly flexible,” he said. “We’re trying to work together to design smartly so they have good trails and there is the opportunity for (future borough use).”

The trails association is aware that the borough could come in and dissolve the agreement if it ever needs the land, Pothast said. But the designers are trying to work with the borough and anticipate what would be the most likely places for the borough to use, so that if a need did come up, the trails wouldn’t have to be disturbed, he said.

The borough assembly has to approve the management agreement by ordinance. The ordinance was introduced at the assembly’s April 18 meeting in Seward and will come up for public hearing at the May 2 meeting. If the assembly approves it in the spring or by early summer, the association hopes to get work rolling on a single-track trail in the new area in the summer and fall, Pothast said.

It’s still early, but the plans include winding trails with a similar interlocking loop structure as the main trails. There would be a small parking lot off the highway, and an access trail would connect to Isaak Road and the other trails, according to a trail management plan application submitted to the borough.

“Over the past thirty years, (Tsalteshi Trails Association) has demonstrated a commitment to developing and maintaining a trail system that benefits a very diverse group of outdoor enthusiasts found throughout our borough,” the application states. “Our organization has maintained a steady paid membership based of approximately 500 individuals over the past several years, and if approved, our plan is to simply expand trails in order to not only allow for more trail experiences for the citizens of the borough, but to increase the number of varied activities on this multi-use trail system.”

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

This map shows the proposed trails in the Kenai Peninsula Borough-owned area Tsalteshi Trails Association is seeking to manage under a Community Trails Management Agreement. (Courtesy the Kenai Peninsula Borough)

This map shows the proposed trails in the Kenai Peninsula Borough-owned area Tsalteshi Trails Association is seeking to manage under a Community Trails Management Agreement. (Courtesy the Kenai Peninsula Borough)

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