By Amanda Bohman

The Tanana Lakes Recreation Area offers nature trails, a swim beach, boat launches, a rifle range, a picnic area, fishing holes, paddle boat rentals and two playgrounds just minutes from downtown Fairbanks.

The 750-acre wilderness park is located at the end of Cushman Street along the Tanana River, and admission is free.

The park opened in 2014 and has been drawing more visitors every year, according to facility supervisor Reb Adkins. Last July, an estimated 43,000 people visited Tanana Lakes, which is operated by the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

Adkins expects its popularity to increase after the park added two new playgrounds.

“The beach is definitely pretty popular,” Adkins said. “I would imagine these playgrounds are going to be popular too.”

A musical playground is located near the picnic shelter, and a second playground was built on the peninsula across from the swim beach.

It wasn’t long ago that the recreation area about a 10-minute drive from downtown Fairbanks looked very different. It formerly looked like a wasteland with trash and abandoned vehicles. The area attracted partiers and lawbreakers. Community groups came together and cleaned things up with the help of grant money, donations and hundreds of hours of volunteer labor.

Slowly, new amenities are being added, but it remains rustic with gravel roads, gravel parking lots, vault toilets, light staffing and an unfinished walking path circling the swim lake.

The beach boasts 4 1/2 acres of sand where people can bake under the endless summer sun before cooling off in Cushman Lake, which is dotted with islands. There is no lifeguard on duty, but life preservers are available for loan.

The beach has two volleyball courts.

At the nearby paddle boat launch, boat rentals will be available again this summer by a private vendor, Adkins said.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game stocks the lake regularly with Chinook salmon and rainbow trout. The lake also has pike.

The picnic area has a pavilion for rent, picnic tables, grills and a restroom. The cost to rent the picnic shelter is $30 for four hours and $50 for more than four hours. Reservations can be made by calling 459-1070.

Other areas of the park can be reserved for special events and groups for $20 for up to four hours and $40 beyond four hours.

Motor boats and personal watercraft are allowed on a second lake, which has a floating dock and two concrete launch ramps. The motorized boat lake connects to the Tanana River. A public restroom is available at the launch.

The park also attracts dog walkers, but dogs must be kept on a leash and are not allowed on the swim beach.

A few years ago, Tanana Lakes became a year-round recreation area with groomed ski trails, a skating rink, a half-mile skating loop and ice fishing.

Hours starting Memorial Day weekend are 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Some events and activities are planned for the summer of 2019 with more expected to be announced as the summer progresses, Adkins said.

On May 27, Memorial Day, Epic Kayak Ultimate is marking the unofficial start of the summer season with food and beverages.

On June 22, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is hosting Dragonfly Day, an all-ages event aimed at taking families to catch and identify dragonflies. More than 300 people attended the five-hour event last summer.

July 11 is the Roll, Run and Row Triathlon, which involves a 5K bike ride (roll), 2K run and 3K row. Participants provide their own equipment and can registers as individuals or as teams.

July 27 is the Cardboard Boat Regatta at the swim beach from noon to 3 p.m.

On Aug. 10 is a 3K/5K Fundraiser run for the Care Net Pregnancy Center of the Tanana Valley, also known as the Fyndout Free Pregnancy Center. The 3K is for children and the 5K is for adults. A cookout will follow.