If you’re an enthusiastic hiker living in Fairbanks, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve walked on a trail saved by the Interior Alaska Land Trust. The nonprofit organization was founded in 1995 and since then it’s worked with property owners across the Fairbanks North Star Borough to acquire land or easements in order to restore and protect habitats and conserve trails.
Over the past 25 years, the organization’s efforts have seen it protect land around the Goldstream Valley and Chena Flats areas. Last year the trust was gifted a small plot of land near North Pole and 40-acres south of Chena Hot Springs Road. It has easements on roughly 20 parcels of land in the Fairbanks area, and has acquired about over 10 other pieces of property.
While it’s spent a number of years focusing on land in the Goldstream Valley, a project that remains ongoing, the trust is currently working on a new project.
A number of trails near the Isberg Recreation Area, just west of Fairbanks, are in danger of being lost, because the owners of adjacent private land are considering development. The trails in question meander from public land onto private land and off again.
The owners of the two parcels of land have allowed public use of the trails for years, but, because the land doesn’t have easements, they could legally close them off at any point. According to Interior Alaska Land Trust, the owner of one property is considering development while the owner of the other is looking at selling their parcel. The loss of the trails on this land would disrupt access to the Isberg and Rosie Creek Trails from Chena Ridge.
As such, the Interior Alaska Land Trust is working to acquire land that would protect the trail system. According to an April 15 Facebook post from a board member, representatives from the trust have spoken to the landowners and “both are amenable to selling their parcels instead of developing them.”
The trust is now figuring out how to raise the funds to do this, which includes tracking down grants, but also soliciting donations from the public. According to Owen Guthrie, who’s served as the trust’s Board President for the past seven years, it’s tricky to pin down a fundraising target, but they’ll need all the help they can get.
“Because in that particular area there are several parcels involved, we haven’t really identified a target figure,” Guthrie said, adding that the trust doesn’t have that much time. “The timeline is pretty short. Some of the parcels concerned are up for sale now. So it’s just kind of whoever comes to the table with the money.”
Guthrie was born and raised in Fairbanks and has been involved with the trust for about eight years. He described the organization as “broadly interested in conservation and habitat restoration” and said he got involved because he saw Fairbanks changing.
“I certainly care about the clause. I’m 52. I’ve seen fairbanks transform quite a bit over those years,” Guthrie said. “Some of my favorite spaces have gone to development. I just see a real need for intentional conservation of some of our green spaces.”
Guthrie said that the organization works with a variety of different governmental and private agencies, but its primary partners are developers and landowners.
“We work across community boundaries to organize these things,” Guthrie said.“The vast majority of our work is with landowners who want to control the development of their own property in perpetuity. So it’s people with a large parcel of land who don’t want to see their homesteads developed.”
Guthrie said that the organization doesn’t name the landowners with which it works before a venture is complete, but emphasized how much the trust depends on the generosity of local landowners. A recent example are Frank Steffensen and Christina Dix, who worked with the land trust on its most recent acquisition: several parcels of land that contain a trail that connects trail systems on the east and west side of Ballaine Road.
“We work well with people who want to develop a portion of their land and then conserve a portion,” he said. “In general, people bought a large parcel of land in Fairbanks because they’re romantic about it. In general, they want to keep at least a part of it that way.”
In the past, the trust has worked with nonprofits like the Conservation Fund, which acquire land on their behalf. Guthrie said that the fund has bought up “hundreds of acres in Goldstream” of which the Interior Alaska Land Trust is now a steward.
“They recently extended Creamer’s Field Migratory Bird Refuge by several hundred acres,” Guthrie said. “We work hand-in-hand with them.”
The trust also works with federal agencies, particularly on its habitat restoration work. It is currently engaged in an ongoing salmon habitat restoration project around Cripple Creek, with a U.S. Fish and Wildlife grant. The project has involved state agencies too.
“Two summers ago we worked with the Alaska DOT, who very kindly did some culvert work at the base of Chena Ridge Road,” Guthrie said.
This summer, the trust is planning to install a large culvert near Chena Pump Spur Road. Guthrie said that will help to restore an historic channel of Cripple Creek, which was disrupted during the 1930s for a mining operation that has long since ceased activity.
“That (land is) owned by the trust. It was given to us by Sherwood Partners. That’s, again, one of those developers who gave us land to be conserved,” Guthrie said. “We also have a goal of acquiring conservation easements or titles of those properties upstream.”
Guthrie said that the trust is “in conversations with several of those landowners” to continue purchasing land in the area. Meanwhile, the trust is also eying up a 20-acre parcel and a 40-acre parcel in the Goldstream Valley.
“All of our conservation projects in Fairbanks are ongoing. There’s always some element of urgency to them. Like, the Goldstream is done, but there are still some properties out there on some beautiful trails,” Guthrie said. “There’s always some opportunity to improve the work at hand.”
“That local fundraising really does give us the ability to do all we do,” he added.
If you’re interested in becoming a member of the trust, donating money or land, or reading about some of its prior projects, visit the website here: bit.ly/2WSMLWI.
Contact staff writer Alistair Gardiner at 459-7575. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors.