FAIRBANKS — When the borough parks department opened the new Tanana Lakes Recreation Area in June, officials thought it would be nice to have 30,000 to 40,000 visitors.
Estimates are 78,000 people visited the new park, which offers a swim beach, picnic area, boat launch, trails and public restrooms.
Funding appropriated for the summer recreational season is running out, and the park is scheduled to be mothballed for winter at the end of the month, according to parks and recreation director Michael Bork. Fairbanks North Star Borough officials are plotting what to do next at the burgeoning recreation area at the end of South Cushman Street.
“We had a more successful summer than we could have anticipated,” Bork said. “Even though the season just ended, we are already looking at next season.”
A public meeting is planned at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the Noel Wien Public Library to brainstorm ideas. Residents can also send suggestions and comments about the 750-acre recreation area to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bork has sent a proposal to borough Mayor Luke Hopkins for review. Also, a state trails grant will go before the borough assembly for approval in the coming weeks. The $50,000 grant is to add a new segment of trail around the swim lake, connecting the picnic area with the swim beach. It requires a $12,500 local match, Bork said.
More than $3 million has been invested in the recreation area, a reclaimed wasteland of crashed and burned out cars and other junk.
The park is the result of a public-private partnership and will continue that way, Bork said.
“We’ve had a lot of community investment,” he said.
The parks department continues to work with the state and a local user group to develop a mud bogging area. Work on a paint ball facility continues slowly, Bork said. The parks and recreation director added that he is talking with dog park organizers with hopes to garner support for a dog beach. Dogs are not allowed on the swim beach.
Bork said the swim beach was probably the park’s biggest draw.
If the weather this summer had been more typical instead of the record rainfall, Bork joked “I think we would have been in trouble.”
Managers tried to be flexible and accommodate to park users, Bork said.
When families started congregating at the canoe launch, the parks department put out portable toilets and fire rings. When people complained about drops-offs in the swim lake, the parks department put out warning signs. Signs also went up after cases of swimmer’s itch were reported.
Bork said the parks department has plans to level off the grade into the water from the beach by either dredging or laying down gravel, but when that will happen depends on funding.
Among the requests for the park are cross-country ski trails and ice fishing shacks for winter recreation, Bork said, but those amenities also need funding. “There are always grants that we are looking at,” he said.
The road to the beach and boat launch is scheduled to be closed to vehicle traffic on Sept. 26. Foot traffic will still be allowed.
Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7587.