The land near Skyview High School is already filled with animals — wolverine, bear, lynx, raven, beaver, moose and more. A squirrel might be the next addition to the menagerie.
The Tsalteshi Trails Association is looking to make at least three additions to the network of ski trails it maintains in the rolling forest surrounding the high school. Tuesday night, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly will consider an ordinance amending the borough’s lease agreement with the association to include land between the high school and Isaak Road.
The first trail on the newly leased land would help extend the trail network south of the high school, past the football field. It is labeled as Squirrel on the association’s planning map, fitting with the animal-theme trail names throughout the area.
“The stars are lining up for it,” said Bill Holt, the maintenance supervisor at Tsalteshi, who also helps design the trails.
If borough approval and state grant funding comes through, the trail building could begin this fall. Holt said that the trail would likely be done in two parts, avoiding a tricky swamp in the first stage of building.
Eventually, he said, the full loop will probably be about two kilometers.
Squirrel will connect with the Rabbit trail and crisscross through nearby land, but the exact route is still up for discussion.
“The terrain will really dictate where the trail goes,” Holt explained while walking in the area where the new trail will be.
Originally a skier, Holt got interested in trail building when he started thinking about how particular turns felt. Now he’s an active part of the trail association and helps optimize each new turn for other skiers. He’s helped with each of the trails built in the last 10 years.
“There’s been a real evolution in how we build trails,” Holt said.
Turns and terrain aren’t the only considerations in how to build a trail.
Although the Squirrel is near Skyview’s football field, Holt doesn’t want skiers to feel like they’re just skiing alongside the field. Nor does he want them to have to run across one another too often.
“You try and make it so you don’t feel like you’re with a whole lot of people,” Holt said.
Before the building begins, the association will look for borough approval of its development plan. They’re waiting on the lease agreement as the first part of gaining that permission.
Then, they can finalize the path, and build the trail.
Most likely, the builders will come in with a chain saw to create a wide enough path for the trail, and then use an excavator to clear the swath.
Where the trail is on lower ground, Holt said the association will try to minimize the disturbance to the ground to preserve drainages. That strategy worked on the Rabbit trail, which was relatively dry even after quite a few days of rain.
Holt said the first portion of the new trail could probably be built in about 10 days this fall, if the association feels confident it will get a grant for the work. Then it might continue to tweak the trail as time goes on.
“Sometimes it takes several years to get it really right,” he said.
Although the new Squirrel trail will be on borough land, the association is not a government agency. It’s a nonprofit that relies on volunteers, donations and grants to maintain the trails used for area schools and by the community at large. Holt said in the winter there are about 125 people on the trails per day.
Right now, the association is applying for a state recreational trails grant for the Squirrel trail. Holt said the association has been successful with grant funding over the last several years, receiving two of those grants.
“We’ve been really lucky with those,” Holt said.
The Squirrel trail will have a couple functions. Eventually, Holt said, a series of trails could develop in that area, with a trail head at Isaak Road. In the immediate future, it will serve as a mild trail for beginners.
It’ll also be a trail that parents can use while kids are out on other trails participating in Tsalteshi’s Youth Ski Program, and a good place for skiers to warm up when races are held on the other trails.
Whether or not the Squirrel trail is built this fall, another improvement is on the way — better lighting.
“We’re adding 50 lights to the trails this fall,” Holt said.
The association is replacing older metal halide lights with LEDs. On the lighted portion of the trails, the LEDs have proven easier to maintain and use less energy. That also means more of them can fit on a circuit, so there’s more light overall, Holt said.
About half of the new lighting will be to replace the old lights with LEDs on the Wolf loop. More LEDs will be added between the LEDs to increase the amount of light on the trails.
The new light will help make the trails safer for the kids who use them in the evening as part of the youth program, Holt said.
The association has two other trails in the works.
The Porcupine trail would be accessed from the Kalifornsky Beach Road trail head, where it connects to the Wolverine trail.
“That’s already flagged out down there,” Holt said.
But the flagged route crosses some wet areas, so the association will likely need to work with the Army Corps of Engineers before it can get the borough to sign off on the development plan.
Porcupine, named for the animal seen while Holt walked the area to find the best path for the trail, would be a two-kilometer loop. Holt said it is less hilly than the Wolverine trail, and good for beginners.
The association also recently received permission from the city of Soldotna to use a plot of land closer to Skyview for another trail. That one is tentatively named Fox. Holt said the association hasn’t laid out the exact route of the trail on city land yet because it was waiting for permission from the city to use the land, but the trail will include a big uphill and a big downhill. That permission was granted last week. It will be a challenging ski.
“That’s the one that I personally am most excited to build,” Holt said.
Molly Dischner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.