A new group in town is trying to help Interior Alaska have the best trails in the world, and it’s already on a good path financially.

The Interior Alaska Trails and Parks Foundation, or IATPF, formed in fall 2018, but it has already received nearly $40,000. Kinross Fort Knox gold mine donated $20,000 to the group. A $12,000 donation came from an anonymous Fairbanks resident, and $7,000 came from REI.

“I know it’s not normally that easy,” said John Junke, president of the foundation.

Skyline Ridge Park

The trailhead to the Skyline Ridge Park trail system Tuesday afternoon, July 16, 2019.

Receiving that much funding right after it formed was largely due to the group being in the right place at the right time. Or more specifically, for the group simply being at the right time.

“I think that our early success is very indicative of the need for an organization like the IATPF,” Junke said.

He also said he thinks it helps that the foundation has members from a large variety of trail users.

“We have hikers, bikers, mushers, snowmachine and four wheel riders, trail builders, runners, among others represented in our organization.”

The largest donation came from Kinross Fort Knox, which operates a mine north of Fairbanks. The mine was in local trail news when it rerouted a couple of trails to accommodate expansion of the mine last year. The trails comprise a route on state land that connects trails north of Gilmore Trail road to trails in the Cleary Summit area. Because those particular trails are protected by state law, the mine had to go through an official process to reroute them. The public comment part of that process alerted the company to the importance of trails in the area, according to Anna Atchison, Fort Knox external affairs manager.

“We heard from stakeholders that trails are an important way of life for many reasons,” Atchison wrote in an email. “Therefore, we felt compelled to invest in the long-term robustness of trail systems in Fairbanks and partnering with the newly founded Interior Alaska Trails and Parks Foundation made perfect sense.”

But the company doesn’t expect the group to take over responsibility for the reroute right away. Kinross Fort Knox plans to monitor the reroute for 2019 and correct any problems regarding design and construction.

“If any major issues are identified, we will address them,” Atchison wrote. “After such, we expect that the maintenance of the trail will be monitored and completed by the state in conjunction with IATPF.”

The company’s donation to the IATPF does not specify that the money must be used anywhere in specific, but Atchison said that Kinross “strongly” recommends that “part of the fund be used to maintain the rerouted section of Gilmore Trail.”

The Fairbanks donor, who wants to remain anonymous, has a different focus, but one that fits within the foundation’s purpose. She asked that her donation go toward making trails more accessible, especially toward solving issues such as building parking lots, putting up signage, and obtaining legal rights-of-way.

Skyline Ridge Park

The trailhead to the Skyline Ridge Park trail system Tuesday afternoon, July 16, 2019.

She said she has reached a place in her life where she is comfortable financially and wanted to help some good local causes. She said that while there were many causes she supports in the area, she chose the foundation for a large donation because of its mission.

“I just love the outdoors,” she said, adding that she spends a lot of time on trails.

She would especially like to see more trail accessibility for older people and families with young children.

“If (the donation) is put to good use,” she said, “I may do it again.”

The foundation also was awarded $7,000 from REI during the company’s recent “Loving Our Local Outdoors” campaign. That campaign also awarded money to three other groups. The Interior Alaska Land Trust received $7,000. Two groups, Inspiring Girls Expeditions and the Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks, each received $3,000.

The Interior Alaska Trails and Parks Foundation will use the donation from REI to help the Fairbanks North Star Borough Parks and Recreation Department improve trails, especially better signage, at the borough’s Skyline Ridge Park.

The department “has been wanting an advocacy group to form for many years,” said borough Trails Coordinator Bryant Wright.

A private nonprofit group can advocate for change, while the borough department is “more reactive” and must wait for public demand, Wright said.

Also, a private group “may be easier for donors to work with,” Wright said. There is “probably a little less red tape to go through to donate to them.”

In addition to being president of the foundation, Junke is the general manager of the Fairbanks REI store. But Junke says he was not involved in awarding the REI grant.

“As soon as I was elected President of the IATPF I recused myself from the granting process at REI. The decisions for grant funding were made by REI’s Corporate Giving Team and by votes from the community of Fairbanks. I had multiple conversations with folks on the Corporate Giving Team to make sure the whole process was fair and equitable,” Junke wrote in an email.

According to Junke, the foundation plans to work on other projects besides at Skyline Ridge Park and near the Kinross Fort Knox mine but has not identified any particular ones yet.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” Junke said. “We’re still in our infancy.”

He encouraged trail users with project ideas to reach out to the group via its website at www.iatpfoundation.org.

Skyline Ridge Park

The trailhead to the Skyline Ridge Park trail system Tuesday afternoon, July 16, 2019.

The group is focusing on trails, but it also has “parks” in its name. Junke said the group wants flexibility to work on parks without trails. When and how the group expands its focus will depend on the public, he said.

“It’s about access to the outdoors, access to the natural spaces,” he said.

The foundation isn’t the first group formed regarding trails in the Fairbanks area. The Interior Trails Preservation Coalition formed in 2003 when the Equinox Marathon Trail was threatened with closure. The coalition has dealt with some other issues, such as access to the Skyline East Ridge Trail, which it took all the way to the Alaska Supreme Court before finally making an out-of-court settlement. But the group has mainly focused on obtaining legal year-round access to the entire Equinox Marathon Route, a project that is still in the works.

The mission of the Interior Alaska Trails and Parks Foundation is different than that of the Interior Trails Preservation Coalition. The foundation is more focused on fundraising and supporting noncontroversial projects.

Anyone wishing to donate to or otherwise contact the foundation can reach it at IATPFoundation@gmail.com.

Eric Troyer is a freelance writer living in Fairbanks. He is publisher of the Interior Trails Newsletter and started the conversations last year that led to the formation of the IATPF. He is not otherwise involved in the foundation. He does serve on the board of the Interior Trails Preservation Coalition. He can be contacted at fbxtrails@gmail.com (including for people interested in getting his free monthly trails newsletter.)