With the sun looming behind the trees, a large crowd set off running toward the Tsalteshi Trails at Skyview High School on Friday to familiarize themselves with the trail system.
The system, made of loops named after various Alaska animals, will soon be safer with the nearly finished lighting project. The project, along with adding new trails and widening existing ones, comes in preparation for the venue's use during the 2006 Arctic Winter Games in March.
Bill Holt is in charge of trail maintenance and grooming for the Tsalteshi Trails Association. He said all ground work is completed, including installation of 48 poles and pedestals on the Wolf, Moose and Rabbit trails. The lights have been ordered and will be installed soon after they arrive.
"We are pretty much ready to go when we get them," he said. "The project is bigger than we thought."
Holt explained that the pathway lights will help skiers see the contour and contrast of the snow by presenting less glare and dispersing light better than typical street lights.
Funds to upgrade the trails came from a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant secured by Sen. Ted Stevens. According to Holt, the project was allotted $83,000, yet many trail members and community members, as well as volunteers from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and Homer Electric Association, have donated time and money to make the project happen.
Holt said two weeks were spent on both projects, working on widening the trails during the day and the lighting at night. Before they were lighted, the trails needed to be widened to avoid trail routing or the need to pull up wiring.
"It worked out well to have the two projects blend," he said.
Holt said plans to light the trails have been in the works for years and the current project was designed so that other trails can be lit in the future.
"It can be an ongoing project," he said.
The kickoff celebration, hosted by TTA and the Kenai Watershed Forum, featured a long course race, approximately four miles, and a short course that was two miles. Participants ran to various stations to obtain punches and returned to the school for prizes and a chili potluck.
Moments before heading out on the trail for the long course, Taylor Karnikis commented on the improved trails.
"They are great," said Karnikis, a Skyview junior who has skied since seventh grade. "The lighting is going to make them a world-class system."
After the activities, "Tangerine Dream," a skiing and snowboarding movie, was shown in the Skyview commons.
Robin Nyce, a TTA board member, said the project of lighting approximately five kilometers of the trails has been an encompassing task for all involved.
"We have been living and breathing the lighting project," she said.
Nyce said she frequents the trails and believes the new lighting will help those interested in skiing when daylight is not available.
"It is fabulous for people who have to work all day," she said.
While the lighting with help during the AWG activities, the project will benefit the community for years to come.
"It is a fabulous community legacy that AWG will leave behind," she said.
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