"No place in the world today remains special by accident."
--E. McMahon, Community Planner, 1998
"The trails we make and protect today will be very tangible gifts to the future. We will walk on them and hike on them and bike on them. They will be accessible to people of all ages and abilities. But in a very important way they represent more than the tangible effect of the trail. They represent a commitment and an investment in the kind of country we want in the next century."
"Trail: a beaten path or track, especially through a wild region."
--Oxford English Dictionary
In 1862, the first city park in America opened in New York City. Central Park was an overnight success. For designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the purpose of the park was quite simply "to refresh citizen's minds and nerves." They planned for three types of activities: solitude, outdoor recreation, and social gatherings. At the time, cities did not even collect trash, let alone provide for solitude. Olmsted foresaw that the park would become a rural oasis surrounded by "a continuous high wall of brick, stone, and marble." They had transformed a low-lying brushy area into a diverse landscape complete with lakes, bridges, carriage-ways, thousands of planted trees and shrubs...and miles and miles of trails.
The UAF North Campus Trails have a similar function. Many users comment that it refreshes them to take a break from their computers and classes and enjoy the trails. For at least eight decades, people have been enjoying these routes for research, class field trips, recreation, to socialize with friends, to watch the birds and beavers on Smith Lake, and for solitude. Campuses nationwide are rapidly becoming high walls of brick and stone with occasional tiny oases of trees. But UAF still enjoys an area as diverse and relaxing, yet even more natural, than that first city park. Olmsted would be proud.
The UAF Trails are used extensively by runners, walkers, commuters, bikers, skiers, researchers, teachers, horseback riders, birdwatchers, and ice skaters. Painting classes have been held in the Potato Field, natural history classes have crisscrossed every route. Tractors have rumbled down the T-field road at planting time, and returned to gather the hay at harvest. Fifth graders have whispered while trying to sneak up on sandhill cranes in the fields, and watched and giggled at beaver slapping the water in the lake. And who could forget those frosty mornings when the Equinox runners take off for their daunting climb of Ester Dome?
For over 80 years, these trails and the areas they access have served as a natural laboratory, a recreational facility, and a quiet, lovely place for contemplation. With a little planning, they can continue to enrich our lives.
In her comments in the UAF Trail Survey, Ginny Wood, a 53-year Fairbanks resident and trails advocate, said, "Let me emphasize what the present non-mechanized UAF trail system means to students, faculty and the Fairbanks community as a whole. It is an asset that does much to alleviate the long, cold Alaskan winter 'cabin fever' syndrome. It is a major extracurricular amenity that helps attract enrollment at UAF. How many other campuses in the world include a network of trails accessible to dormitories that loop through a forest and connect to many more trails off-campus? Yet over the years, the campus trails have been subject to frequent rerouting and even elimination. This would not happen to a football field, a basketball court, or a hockey rink. There needs to be more communication to help decision-makers who don't know the trails realize how important they are to UAF and the Fairbanks community. Compared to almost all other research, educational, and recreational facilities, trails are a very cost-effective investment."
American Lives, a market research firm in Oakland, California, did a study in 1995 pragmatically entitled "Community Features Home Buyers Pay For," sponsored by the real estate industry. Their study showed that, after low crime rates and good schools, the third most desired amenity by home buyers was "trails and open space." Homebuyers nationwide view trails as an indicator of a healthy community and a high quality of life. Nationwide, people treasure convenient, ready access to trails.
In Alaska, State Parks conducted a statewide household survey in October 1997 regarding recreational activities and preferences (ADNR, Alaska's Outdoor Legacy, Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan, Anchorage, 1999). This survey of 600 households indicated that Alaskans place a high value on the availability and quality of outdoor recreation opportunities. In the Railbelt, 73% of respondents preferred more trails over any other recreational facility. With regard to activities, walking, day hiking, trail skiing, jogging, biking, sportfishing and birdwatching were among the favorite activities, and these are all available on the UAF trails (Ballaine Lake is stocked with fish and a big hit with young anglers).
For the literally hundreds of users who have fond memories of the times they've spent on the UAF trails, these paths are much more than just routes between here and there: they are an integral part of a great way of life.