What defines autumn for me is bright yellow leaves falling to the forest floor on a chilly breeze. A moose hunt. A glazed windshield that needs more than a second to clear before driving off. That sweet, sharp scent of the woods as leaves decay. A family bike ride. Taking the dog on a walk without the need for ice cleats.
Autumn is dwindling daylight where colors take on an almost neon glow at sunset. Autumn is the crunch of gravel underfoot.
Community voices collaborated several years ago in a grant application to the Federal Lands Access Program, administered by the Federal Highways Administration to improve transportation facilities that provide access to, are adjacent to, or are located within federal lands. Co-sponsored by the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and State of Alaska Department of Transportation and supported by numerous local agencies and nongovernmental organizations, the Ski Hill Road project was awarded for trail construction.
A public meeting followed to determine the preferred route and after design, engineering and construction, we have a new trail.
Autumn is a rain of yellow leaves. The wind also carried the sounds of backhoes and dump trucks this year. Have you heard the beeps, growls and whooshes of heavy equipment along Ski Hill Road? Have you seen new parking lots appear, tucked into the roadside?
The progress of trail construction crews has been exciting to watch. As we near the end of September, their efforts to build an accessible, safe trail for our community will conclude this weekend with the grand opening of the Ski Hill Multi-use Trail.
Autumn is reconnecting with community and friends, and reconnecting with the outdoors, living your definition of “wild.” Ski Hill Multi-use Trail is established with many different recreational activities in mind.
It doesn’t start life as a game trail or lead into wilderness. It is built wide enough for people to pass each other. A multi-use trail is a flexible meeting place for the community where everyone is welcome.
Autumn is fat tires and helmets and crunching leaves. A first for Kenai refuge, bikes are welcome on Ski Hill Multi-use Trail! Where other refuge trails are closed to bike riding, they are encouraged on this new urban trail.
Ski Hill Multi-use Trail is also fairly easily connected to the Kalifornsky Beach Road section of the Unity Trail for riders looking for longer distances.
Helping the refuge celebrate Saturday, our neighboring Tsalteshi Trails Association will host an inaugural family bike ride beginning at 2 p.m. Meet at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center parking lot ready for a 1.5-mile family friendly ride.
Bring your bike and helmet. Children will need to ride with an adult. No registration is required but plan to arrive early enough to check in with organizers before they depart at 2 p.m.
Autumn is frosty leash walks with a furry friend before the snow arrives. This is the first trail near headquarters to be open to dog walkers. It is the hope of trail designers that this will reduce the dangers that came from road-based dog walks in the past.
The narrow Ski Hill Road has been replaced by an expansive 8-foot cleared trail that winds along with peek-a-boo views of the road along its entire length.
Dog waste stations installed at the trailheads make cleanup easy. New dog walkers are encouraged to help keep this trail enjoyable for all visitors by picking up after their pups.
Very good dogs can earn their B.A.R.K. Ranger dog tag with their owners at the trail opening event. Stop by a ranger tent at any trailhead to pick up an activity guide and learn more about this fun program.
Dogs and their people who enjoy refuge trail walks also are invited to join the Trail Stewards group. These teams contribute trail reports, photos and help keep refuge trails beautiful in partnership with refuge rangers and trail crew.
Whatever your level of interest, bring your dog on a leash for an autumn walk any time after 10 a.m. this Saturday. Potential Trail Stewards can meet a ranger at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. at the visitor center trailhead to sign up for this program before their walk.
Autumn is the laughter of rosy-cheeked children playing outside. Families, you know we absolutely love hosting hands-on programs at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. This past year has challenged our educators to bring nature experiences to you virtually and while that is lots of fun, we hope that the in-person activity that awaits you and your kiddos at Ski Hill Multi-use Trail will feel more like normal.
Try out wayfinding, geocaching and scavenger hunts all day during self-guided activities on the trail. The trail is a compacted gravel path winding the length of Ski Hill Road. It is an easy walk with a stroller, wheelchair or by foot (however small those feet may be).
Pick up activity guides at trailhead ranger stations all day Saturday, or access them on your device from the refuge Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/kenainationalwildliferefuge) starting Sunday.
Autumn is fleeting. This weekend we will get to know Ski Hill Multi-use Trail, learn its route, explore its details. As winter arrives, the trail will be maintained for all those great nonmotorized outdoor pursuits that area residents enjoy on other area trails.
Skiing, snowshoeing, fat tire biking, ice cleat walks. All user groups will share the wide trail. Snow will be managed for walkers and bikers but those evening snowfalls should provide skiable conditions between plow visits. Remember that 10 miles of refuge ski trails await just beyond the visitor center!
Ski Hill Multi-use Trail’s grand opening defines this autumn at Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Come out and get some fresh fall air this weekend while checking out what’s new on Ski Hill Road in Soldotna. Call 907-260-2820 with any questions or stop by a trailhead tent starting at 10 a.m. Saturday.
Leah Eskelin is Lead Park Ranger and Visitor Center Manager at Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Find out more about refuge events, recreation and more at kenai.fws.gov or Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kenainationalwildliferefuge.
By LEAH ESKELIN
Kenai National Wildlife Refuge