If you have not joined the Fairbanks North Star Borough Park and Recreation’s Winter Trails Challenge, now is the time. Days are longer, temperatures are warming. This challenge offers a perfect excuse to get outside.

“The Trails Challenge is such an amazing program,” said Sarah McConnell, a retiree who gave it a try for the first time this season. “After all these years, I’m getting to know new trails through the challenge, and getting out.”

The challenge began in December 2020 and continues through April 2021. It’s an all-ages, all-abilities outdoor scavenger hunt.

“Every season, we do a challenge with different trails, or at least different locations if we use the same trails,” said Bryant Wright, trail coordinator. “Signs are in a different location every time, so you really don’t know where it is.”

Even experienced outdoors people, familiar with local trails, need to keep their eyes peeled to find the markers, he said.

The Trails Challenge has proven to be fun and challenging. The markers are posted on a variety of trails. Wright tries to strike a balance of easy-to-reach trails and those that are harder. 

“There are 20 signs this year,” he said.

A list of the signs is on the Fairbanks North Star Borough Parks and Recreation website. The department also publishes a newsletter called FLIP — Fairbanks Loves Its Parks — that comes out once a month.

This is follow-up to the Summer Trails Challenge, which was extremely popular.

“I think there were over 700 people registered,” Wright said. He thinks 435 people completed the full challenge.

“We counted up over 5,000 visits to trails from this program,” he said.

The department also offers a Junior Trailblazer class for those under the age of 10. Participants who find at least five signs can win the Junior Trailblazer Award. Adults who find at least 10 signs can also win prizes from local sponsors.

Participants are encouraged to take selfies and share those photos on social media with the hashtag #FNSBTrails” or email the photo to Parks@fnsb.us.

“Generally, the feedback has been, ‘we want more trails,’ “ he said. “So that’s what we have done.”

“At first, we didn’t anticipate this many people doing it,” Wright said. “It’s a lot. We’re still counting up pictures. It’s nice to verify people made it and it’s really nice data to have.”

The trails that are closer to town and easier to reach get more visits, of course. The distant trails get fewer visits, but that is because they are more challenging.

“That’s not to say they’re not as important,” Wright said. The farthest marker is 11 miles from the trailhead.

The program encourages people to head outdoors and be active.

“One thing that is really great is the community that gets built around it,” Wright said. “At the beginning, we were answering tons and tons of phone calls, helping people navigate to trails. Now, a lot of that burden has been passed to the trail users. They tell each other how to do it.”

“Even though more and more people are doing it, my workload is a little lighter during the bulk of the challenge,” he said. “Because people are communicating and helping each other out. They’re finding new trail buddies. That’s been pretty cool.”

Questions? Contact Bryant Wright at bwright@fnsb.us or 907 459-7401.

Reach columnist/community editor Kris Capps at kcapps@newsminer.com. Follow her on Twitter @FDNMKris.