ANCHORAGE (AP) A plan to have volunteers patrol Anchorage's trail system is gaining favor among trail users who say the increased presence is needed to make safe one of the city's most popular attractions.
The plan appeared to have wide backing among 70 or so people from different sectors of Anchorage who crowded Mayor Mark Begich's conference Tuesday to discuss the patrol.
City officials hope to have the volunteers in place by fall.
The push comes on the heels of three attempted sexual assaults in late May and early June. It also comes amid a budget crunch for the city and understaffing at the Anchorage Police Department, which has left trails mostly unpatrolled.
The crowd aired fears about using the city's 120-plus miles of paved trails when few people are on them.
One woman said there are stretches of trail where visibility is bad and assailants can hide in the bushes. Women wearing skimpy clothing and headphones are setting themselves up for an attack, she said.
Another woman said it's frightening to be on a trail alone and run into two or more intoxicated homeless men. There are no emergency phones along the trails, not enough police presence, and not enough media coverage of attacks that occur on the trails to allow people to avoid those areas, members of the group said.
Begich said his office would be aggressive about setting up the patrol.
''The trails are a huge asset to the city,'' he said ''They need to be safe.''
Specifics about how the patrol would work have not yet been ironed out. Volunteers would wear bright shirts or vests and volunteer at a time and location convenient for them. Private businesses would pitch in to buy gear, which might include uniforms, radios or cell phones, whistles to use and hand out, and informational pamphlets on trail safety.
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