KODIAK — A team of Kodiak community members is spearheading the creation of a new 10,000-foot path from Boy Scout Lake to the Coast Guard Base main gate. They got one step closer to building the trail on Tuesday, when the Kodiak Island Borough Assembly unanimously approved an encroachment permit with the Alaska Department of Transportation to allow for the construction.

“This trial will be of the people, by the people and for the people. And we will be maintaining it,” said community member Sandra West, addressing assembly members at Tuesday’s meeting. “The cool part about the DOT encroachment permit is if we slack off, they pull it… We’re all working together.” 

The DOT permit is necessary because of the proximity of the planned path to Rezanof Drive. Some assembly members raised concerns over the ongoing maintenance of the trail, but West assured them that a dedicated team of volunteers will continue to look after the trail after it is constructed. 

“I think it’s really important to have people steeped in how things were meant to be and how things turn out to be,” Assembly Member Dennis Symmonds said. “It’s a blessing to have people — and there aren’t very many — who have been around this community for a while and are familiar with what can happen when interested parties are no longer around. I think it’s a wonderful project. It’s so neat to have community support.”

The idea is West’s brainchild. A Kodiak resident who began commuting by bicycle to the Coast Guard base along Rezanof Drive in 2003, she quickly realized that the highway was not a safe route for cyclists and hikers.

West raised the idea of constructing a path from the City of Kodiak to the base that would provide a safer option for people to commute and recreate along the highway. 

“The excitement is there,” she said. “We initially started with: ‘Let’s just get shovels and do it.’”

But the approval process for the path only entered full swing in the fall of 2018, when a few willing volunteers joined the cause, beginning the multi-step process of seeking approval for an official path.

“The reason that this connecting community trail is important is to get people outside. We don’t have mega malls or multiplex theaters, but we do have this beautiful island,” West said. “This will improve the quality of life immensely, and that improves our community.”

Eric Linscheid, a member of the borough’s Parks and Recreation Committee and of the board of directors of the Island Trails Network, has played a major role in developing the plan for the trail.

“When we looked at return on our investment, this would be the fastest, easiest way to start and get a path out there that people could use. It’s for strollers, families, dog walkers, runners, bikers. So that everybody that wants to get outside can use it,” Linscheid said, addressing the assembly on Tuesday. “Everybody we have talked to has been really supportive. It’s just been really exciting talking to people and seeing the enthusiasm.”

Linscheid explained that prior to receiving the encoachement approval from the borough, the team of volunteers sought approval from Coast Guard command and made sure the trail met the demands of the Coast Guard’s military policy. Linscheid and others have spoken with representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Environmental Protection Agency, in addition to DOT.

Volunteers, including the Coast Guard’s Chief Petty Officers Association, already cleared the trail of brush. The team is now waiting on a response from NEPA and an approval of the encroachment from DOT. Lischeid said they hope to begin path construction on August 1. The team will work with ITN, which is providing expertise and equipment to assist in constructing a long-lasting path. The first goal will be to complete the trail from the Coast Guard gate to Peterson Elementary School.

But before they begin, the team must raise funds to cover the cost of gravel and equipment. According to West, the positive response from the community has left them hopeful for a successful fundraising campaign. 

“We’ve had so much support and so much excitement and so many people wanting to be a part of this, that we end up with more solutions than challenges,” West said, adding that they are currently applying for numerous grants and seeking assistance in creating a fundraising campaign. 

At the ITN film festival this past spring, they were able to recruit over 50 volunteers to assist in the construction of the trail once all permits, equipment and material are received. 

The fundraising campaign will likely offer community members the opportunity to sponsor the trail at a cost of $5 to $10 per foot. Linscheid said they intend to apply for state-funded grants, such as the Community Transportation Program from the DOT, and the Recreation Trail Program from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. However, state budget cuts may make it more challenging to access these funding opportunities, Linscheid said.

The new path will follow the route of an old trail once maintained by the Navy. According to a preliminary estimate, constructing the trail will require about 150 dump truck loads of gravel. The path is planned to measure eight feet wide and six inches deep. 

“It becomes a really social event to hike and walk together,” Linscheid said. 

Stephen Paulson, the volunteer coordinator for the trail construction and a member of the borough’s parks and recreation committee, said the project is part of a larger vision called “Connecting Community,” which seeks to create a hardened path from the City of Kodiak to Bells Flat. The idea, part of the borough’s parks and recreation committee comprehensive plan, is still in development. 

Paulson said the goal for completing the trail this year is pretty ambitious, but added that enthusiasm from volunteers can allow it to happen. 

“In both the comprehensive plan that we are working on right now, as well as the capital improvement plan that we are putting together, the so-called Connecting Community Path, intended to go all the way from from Kodiak to Bells Flat, is very high on our list of priorities,” Paulson said. “It is gaining steam with the public here in Kodiak. We expect a lot of use for the trail. When you look at places like Fairbanks and Anchorage that have trails like that, they are in high use. They are dearly loved.”