Today is the final day of the Fairbanks North Star Borough Parks and Recreation’s Summer Trails Challenge, which began June 20. The department has been holding the all-ages, all-abilities outdoor scavenger hunt since 2016, and this was its biggest year so far, said Bryant Wright, trails coordinator.
“We started (in 2016) with the Winter Trails Challenge,” Wright said. “It started pretty small, and it’s grown considerably. This summer — we’re just nearing the end, so we’ll have to do a tally of all the participation after Monday — but so far, I’ve seen almost 400 people participating this year.”
The Summer Trails Challenge takes place over roughly three months and involves a selection of 12 local trails, on which signs are hidden by Parks Department staff in secret locations. The public is invited to hike each of the trails and try to find the signs.
“Along the way, we hope you have a chance to learn new skills, see new places and make positive memories,” the event’s website states.
This year, the trails included the Eagle and Island trails at the Tanana Lakes Recreation Area; Nature Trail and Slough Loop at the Chena Recreation Area; the Secret and Skyline Ridge trails at Skyline Ridge Park; and a number of others. Wright said well over 100 people have completed or are close to completing the challenge.
“Each season it’s a little different. Certainly there are trails where we put signs up each time, but we always try to put the sign in a different location,” Wright said. “We have a lot of really great parks and really great trails out here. Aside from doing maintenance to keep them open, we try to focus on doing outreach.”
Wright said that he had landed his current position just before the first Trails Challenge three years ago. The Winter Trails Challenge was one of the first outreach projects he worked on.
“We were looking for ways to help people get out and see stuff that they don’t usually see,” he said. “We thought it would be a fun thing to encourage people to get out onto all the trails throughout the borough and we thought we would make it goal oriented — make it kind of a game.”
To participate, when hikers find a sign, they have to take a selfie in front of it to prove that they’ve found it. The public were also invited to post these photographs on social media with the hashtag #FNSBTrails.
“Each season there’s kind of a community of people sharing tips and telling people how to get to a trail or giving us feedback on the trail conditions,” Wright said. “People have such a fun time doing this and a lot of the component of proving you made it on the trails happens on social media.”
Dozens of locals have posted to Facebook using the hashtag over the summer.
“I still think this is one of the coolest projects in the FNSB! So far we’ve found signs on some of our favorite trails (Chena River Nature Trail, the downtown bike path) and explored a new-to-us trail (After Hours Trail in Skyline Ridge Park). The Boreal Forest Trail in Creamer’s Field is the last one and is also a gem that I often forget about,” wrote one user.
Participants who found at least 10 signs can win prizes from local sponsors and become eligible for the coveted Trailblazer Award. This year, Wright said, the department introduced a new element: the Junior Trailblazer Award.
“We got a lot of feedback from families with children wanting to get their kids out,” he said, explaining that the junior award entails completing the challenge on just five of the trails, rather than 10. “It’s a fun task each year to try to brainstorm which trails would be good fits to send people out to.”
The challenge doesn’t just help to educate the public on the trails that are available to them, but it also helps the department to gather statistics on which trails are the most popular and which are less known. Wright said that, this year, the department got a lot of feedback on the trails at Skyline Ridge Park.
“A lot of people didn’t know they were there,” he said. “We hear from them saying, ‘This is a gem, I had no idea this was out here,’ and that’s kind of music to my ears.”
With the Summer Trails Challenge ending today, the only event left is the prize-giving, which will take place at 2 p.m. Saturday at Tanana Lakes.
“This year we have Beaver Sports, REI and Trax Outdoor Center sponsoring a big prize drawing for all the people who completed the challenge,” Wright said. “We’re also doing a fun little workshop just before that — it’s a “Leave No Trace” workshop to learn good practices and trail etiquette. So people who are coming to the awards ceremony can come to that beforehand.”
If the summer hasn’t quenched hikers’ thirst for hiking, fear not: the Winter Trails Challenge is right around the corner.
“We start that usually in December. Typically it’s right around winter solstice that we start. Hopefully we’ll start a little earlier this year, so it’s kind of a nice way for kids to start winter break,” Wright said.
Those looking for more details on the Trails Challenge — or general information and maps for local trails — can visit the Trails page on the Parks and Recreation Department’s website at bit.ly/2YOPgI7
Contact staff writer Alistair Gardiner at 459-7575. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors.