Most people can probably ski at Tsalteshi Trails without thinking too much about the equipment shed. But nobody can ski there without thinking about the condition of the trails, and that's why this winter's completion of a new shed is so important.
"It's a lot easier to groom more often," said Tom Seggerman, the treasurer of the Tsalteshi Trails Association and a groomer of the trails. "It's a lot more enticing."
Although the shed was completed last winter, groomers didn't actually start using it until before Thanksgiving this year.
The new shed allowed groomers to move equipment and snowmachines out of an old steel box that offered inconvenient access.
"Grooming can be like anything else -- the setup can be the hardest part of it," said Bill Holt, the vice chair of the Tsalteshi Trails Association and a trail groomer. "Now the setup is so easy.
"We don't have to do anything. We just open up the door and go."
The steel box was inconvenient because once snow built up around it, the doors would get stuck and the snowmachine would become difficult to get in and out. The new shed has garage-style doors on two sides and has ramps leading to both.
"I'll be working in school and I'll have an hour and a half of free time to get something done," Holt said. "Before, I wouldn't have considered grooming because it was so hard to open up the door and get the snowmachine out.
"Now, I'm more tempted to groom because the snowmachine is so easy to get out."
The steel box also had no lights and heat. The new shed has both those amenities that can be oh-so-valuable in an Alaska winter.
"I've groomed at 6 in the morning more than I've ever done it before," said Seggerman, who estimates groomers spend 14 to 16 hours a week working at Tsalteshi. "I've also been able to groom late at night."
The ease of access also has allowed Tsalteshi to expand the number of volunteer groomers.
In the past, with the snowmachine so hard to access, the number of volunteer groomers was as low as two.
This year, in addition to Holt and Seggerman, Al Trumpler and Dave Litchfield also are grooming.
The final benefit of the new shed is that there is a plowed path leading to it. This makes it easier to haul things to it, like the 200 gallons of gas it takes to fuel the snowmachines each winter.
The new shed was made possible by a grant, volunteer labor and donations from area businesses.
In early 1999, the Tsalteshi Trails Association received a recreational trail grant for $12,633 from the Alaska Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation.
The money went for new trail signs, trail improvements and the equipment shed.
The materials to make the shed cost $11,000. About $7,000 of that came from the grant, while $4,000 came from the dues of Tsalteshi's members, which number about 150.
Seggerman, the owner of TDS Construction, designed the shed. Other volunteers such as Holt, Trumpler, Dave Tressler and John Harro brought the total number of volunteer hours spent on the shed to 171.
It fit in with the tradition at Tsalteshi, the 11-kilometer trail system, where pretty much everything has come from volunteer labor.
"A lot of people think the trails are here because of the high school," Seggerman said. "We're separate from the high school.
"All the work we do is volunteer."
The final touches on the shed, which is insured at $25,000, came from area businesses. Spenard Builders Supply in Soldotna sold the materials for the shed at cost. Doors and Windows Unlimited Inc. donated and installed the overhead doors. Finally, Kelly Electric Inc. donated the electrical installation.
The shed got here just in time for this winter, which has featured, for the most part, consistently skiable snow since mid-October.
"I think there has been more use and interest this winter," Seggerman said. "I'm not sure which comes first, trails in better condition or more people using the trails.
"They both just build on each other."
It had already been a busy year for the trails association, with a new loop and a new Web site (www.tsalteshi.org).
As for future projects, the association is looking at widening the trails, creating a new loop that would take skiers to the flat land bordered by Kalifornsky Beach Road and the Sterling Highway, and lighting a few short loops on the trails.
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