There’s a time and place for everything, and for local recreation trails, the emphasis lies on the place.
The various trails on the central peninsula offer much in the way of fun but also include a variety of rules and unwritten etiquette. Is running and bicycling allowed? What about snowshoeing? Are they dog friendly?
It is common courtesy when using ski trails during the winter to not tread on the groomed portions. Signs are plenty at the Tsalteshi Trails and the Kenai Wildlife Refuge in Soldotna that provide the correct ways to enjoy the snowy outdoors at their respective facilities, but different trail systems have different rules.
The popular Tsalteshi Trails offer several wintertime activities, most notably cross-country skiing. The trail system features over 22 kilometers of regularly groomed trails that are well maintained, with another several kilometers of multiuse trail known as the Slikok Trails.
“People that are ski hungry, they’re going to go,” said Mark Beeson, a Tsalteshi board member and regular event organizer. “If you have nice skis, it’s not the time right now.”
While hard-core ski enthusiasts have been getting out on the trails since the first permanent snowfall Nov. 9, Beeson said more snow is still required to form a solid base that can last awhile.
The trail etiquette rules for Tsalteshi state that skiers that break out the skate, or freestyle, skis for a day of skiing must be careful not to ski over the classic tracks, which run parallel to the side of the groomed trails. The classic tracks are easily mashed down and ruined by not just freestyle skiers, but also snowshoers, bikers and dog walkers, Beeson said.
With that in mind, it is a rule that snowshoeing is only to be done off to the side of the Wolverine Loop, and no other loops. Snowshoeing is also fine on the singletrack trail, which can be accessed from the Wolverine trailhead off Kalifornsky Beach Road. The singletrack trail — which is much more narrow than the groomed ski trails — is typically used for cyclists in the summer months, and is still fine to use by bikers in the winter. Fat tire bikes are most commonly used in the winter due to their high traction advantage.
Beeson said dogs, runners and walkers are not allowed on the Tsalteshi Trails in the winter, but directed any foot traffickers to the new Slikok trails just south of the Tsalteshi system. The Slikok trails can be accessed off the Sterling Highway across the road from the Central Peninsula Landfill. Beeson said dog walkers and runners can park next to the red garages located there.
“We can basically have anything out there except for motorized vehicles,” Beeson said. “The summer crowd is welcome there.”
The Slikok trails are currently only about one mile right now, but Beeson said construction next summer should add a few more miles in length and also some width.
For those that prefer a wilder trip into the woods, the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge offers about five kilometers of trails that wind their way through the forest, in addition to the open air of Headquarters Lake. A longer drive out to Skilak Lake boosts the mileage considerably.
Located up Ski Hill Road in south Soldotna, the wildlife refuge has been offering maintained ski trails for over 50 years, and Kenai Visitor Services park ranger Leah Eskelin said one of the benefits of going out for a romp is the freedom to enjoy the outdoors with whatever method the user prefers.
“We try not to have hard and fast rules on where people can go,” Eskelin said. “It’s just not going to be fun that way.”
Eskelin said the conditions change fast, especially after Thursday’s snowfall, but the 2.2-mile Centennial Loop and .75-mile Keen-Eye Nature Trail are both open to walking or hiking, as well as snowshoeing.
The Nordic Lake Ski/Snowshoe Loops — four loops that can be 4.6 miles in distance — can be used by skiers and snowshoers that stay off to the side.
Everywhere else is open to most methods of recreation, but Eskelin noted that foot traffickers would likely find difficulty traversing the backcountry trails that wind their way through what are typically wetland areas in the summer.
“The hardy souls among us could try,” she said. “Without a groomer, you’re kind of just launching.”
Headquarters Lake, a popular go-to for skiers in the early weeks of a winter, is still looking for more snow but is otherwise suitable for skiing along the outer edges until classic tracks can be laid down. Eskelin said snowshoes are welcome along the side path.
Eskelin said dogs are not permitted in the Headquarters Lake area, in order to encourage wildlife viewing and to reduce conflicts between animal owners, but the Skilak Lake area is open to dogs and skijoring activities.
As far as winter cycling? Eskelin said the only places to bike are on roads that allow for highway licensed vehicles. So, if a car can drive on it, so can a bike, but the skiing and walking trails are off limits.
Back in town, the Kenai Golf Course is another option for skiers to consider, but Bob Frates, director of Kenai Parks and Recreation, said the course still needs several more inches of snow before the groomer can make tracks.
“We’d like to consider ourselves operating a multiuse trail system as much as we can,” Frates said, who added that 8 to 10 inches are needed to groom.
The area is open to skiers, Frates said, but other activities, such as snowshoeing and kick sleds, are better suited for the woods behind Coral Seymour Memorial Park.
Frates said the most important thing to remember is that the land needs special care, thus the careful considerations when recreating out on the golf course, which utilizes a counterclockwise direction of travel.
“We’re kind of in a different situation from other trails in that we operate on a golf course,” Frates said.
Skijoring is allowed, as long as owners have control of their dogs.
Fat tire bicycles are discouraged from being used on the golf course, Frates said, so the woods surrounding it is better for the bikes.
Frates also noted that adjacent property to the course is privately owned, so using the trailheads at the Kenai Golf Course parking lot or the smaller lot next to Seymour Park is required.
The Nikiski Pool and community trails behind Nikiski High School are also a venue to get out and ski, and rules there dictate that snowshoeing is allowed but only along the side of the groomed ski tracks. It is recommended to snowshoe on the summer disc golf course, which stands in an open area with deeper snow.