MAT-SU—Tomorrow, residents of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough celebrate a 30-year-old dream made tangible: the opening of a designed ski area at Hatcher Pass. A ribbon will be cut by many hands for 5 km of Nordic Ski trails, the beginning step for a network of Olympic class trails that may one day draw international ski events such as The World Cup.
Government Peak Recreation Area
The new cross-country ski trails were designed by an Olympian and are one feature of what’s called “The Government Peak Recreation Area at Hatcher Pass.” The 3.5 miles of trails that cross over 13 bridges will also be used in summer for jogging and biking. In winter, snowshoeing, and skijoring on one loop with a dog is also possible. On the east side of Government Peak, an alpine or downhill ski area is a future part of the plan. So too, on some 700 acres of the 7,860-acre unit, residential and commercial development are planned. The land sales will help fund more phases of the recreational development and will create homes with a view and trails at the front door, while adding to the Borough’s tax base.
Visit the project website to see maps, directions, plans and more at http://www.hatcherpass.com
Download a map on how to get there here. (Take Edgerton Parks Road for one mile and turn right at the marked access road. Go for another mile to the parking lot.)
What happens tomorrow
11 am: a brief ribbon cutting by many on the 50-foot ribbon. It’s a bring your own scissors affair. Olympian Bill Spencer, Assembly Member Jim Colver, Mayor Larry DeVilbiss, Assembly Member Warren Keogh, Manager John Moosey, trail co-trail designer Mike Campfield, Transportation Division Manager Brad Sworts, Community Development Director Eric Phillips, Eagle Scout Ian Pougher, and longtime trail enthusiast Helen Woodings, are among the ribbon cutters.
Noon: The Solstice Sprints relay race. Each person skis 3 km.
High school coaches and ski teams from Palmer, Colony, and Wasilla High will be there. MAT-SU Jr. Nordic skiers will also participate. The race is open to the public.
Who is celebrating tomorrow
BILL SPENCER, a Mount Marathon legend and a former Olympic Nordic skier is also an engineer who designed the trails with awe-inspiring views strategically incorporated into the route.
ED STRABEL, president of the MAT-SU Ski Club with 400 members. The club was a driving force behind the creation of the Nordic trails. The group helped cut and clear trees on 10 km of trail. The group also was awarded the Borough grooming contract.
“It’s not much money, more a labor of love,” said Eric Phillips, Borough Community Development Director. “We’re fortunate that they’ve been stepping up to the plate. We don’t have the staff to provide the level of service the trails are receiving for clearing, grooming, fuel, and labor. For every dollar we invest, we double our money through their in-kind services.”
The MAT-SU Ski Club has been rounding up its own funding through several grants as well. $3,000 for timing equipment from the Alaska Ski Education Foundation; $4,800 for ski bibs from the Round Up Program through MEA; $15,000 for an ATV from the Rasmuson Foundation; and $8,000 for a 108-inch wide groomer from the MAT-SU Health Foundation, Strabel says.
A few years ago, the Borough was awarded some $6 million in grants for the road and trails project from the Federal Transit Administration. A team of Borough staff, led by former Community Development Director Ron Swanson, has brought the project to fruition. Contractors HDR and DOWL also worked on the project.
Assembly Member Jim Colver has also shepherded the project to reality.
“The Nordic trail system represents a major accomplishment for the community,” Colver said. “For years we talked about new skiing opportunities at Hatcher Pass. We’ve not had any results until now. The focus was on Nordic first to get something affordable going. Three years later, we’re opening the trails. It’s a first of a multigenerational development up there,” Cover said.
Components of the Nordic Ski area
Phase 1 underway
• final environmental impact statement completed
• 1-mile, $3 million access road to parking area open to traffic and nearly completed
• 5 km beginner & intermediate, year-round trails completed
• build chalet summer 2013 with existing funds
• trail & parking lot lighting to come
• build 10 to 15 km of trails and loops, establishing an Olympic level ski trail system
• paved access road & parking
• extended road and second parking
Buses are running on time to and from the new Nordic ski area Friday through Monday from Wasilla and Palmer. Borough employee Debbie Passmore recently took the bus from a gas station at Wasilla-Fishhook Road, arriving at the trails 20 minutes later. She said the bus was warm, the driver friendly, and there’s even a place to put your skis in a rack up front. After skiing two hours she said “I just came off the loop, and the bus was there.” Fares are $2.50 each way, exact change required, or purchase a monthly pass. Visit www.matsutransit.com to see the schedule. High schoolers can hop on the MASCOT bus after school on Fridays and Mondays at Colony, Palmer, and Wasilla high schools.