I was talking with someone today about Rover’s Run, and the bear-related incidents that have occurred on or near that trail over the past two ... well, now three, summers. She mentioned the often-discussed idea of of building an alternative trail that would be farther away from Campbell Creek and it’s tasty, bear-attracting salmon, and said she thinks some people at the municipality seem to favor this option.
That’s when I started talkin’ crazy and mentioned that if the city wants the trail farther from the creek, the city should pony up some money and fund the project. That’s not how things work in Anchorage, of course. If you want or need a new trail here, you have to spend a few years in public meetings begging for permission. You have to make sure the bike-hating Nordic ski community is happy. You have to raise a bunch of money to pay for the trail. Then, if you’re lucky, the city that would benefit from the project will grant you permission ... and you get to pay for a permit. Yeah, the city charges you a fee to build it a free trail.
As I walked back to my office today, I thought about my recent trip to Canada. As my friends and I rode multiple trails with Anthony—a local in Whitehorse, Yukon—the conversation was sprinkled with his mentions of when the city built this trail or that one, and how the city crew was constructing that fancy new mountain-bike bridge at the bottom of the gully.
Whitehorse is roughly one-tenth the size of Anchorage.
One day, we rode to a little skills park tucked away in the woods at the base of Grey Mountain. There were log bridges and teeter-totters cut from the local timber. We asked, who did this? His answer: the city of Whitehorse.
Back in town, there’s a formal, fenced skills park full of jumps, wall rides, and all sorts of tricky challenges that most of us will never attempt, much less master. (Ever try riding on a steel chain over a shallow pit? Me neither. And I can still say that.) Where’d the park come from? The city. Public funds were spent on a public recreation facility—for mountain bikers.
This happened in a city of 26,000 people in the freakin’ Yukon territory. A place with only two bike shops.
And what happens when a town invests in such things? Its residents have a blast riding their asses off, for one thing. And people like us travel there to ride. We spend money in the town’s stores and restaurants. People start bike-related tourism businesses like Boreale Mountain Biking (and then let Alaskans hang out in their yurts to drink margaritas, but never mind that right now).
We know to go there because such places get noticed. Word gets around in the bike world. The media covers the town as a destination that people should put on their travel lists. Hell, people in the United Kingdom read about Whitehorse in British newspapers and bike magazines.
Anchorage—Did I mention that it’s roughly ten times the size of Whitehorse?—could never do such things, of course. It’s not as if we have a huge, stunning blank slate of mountains at the edge of town, just waiting for trails to be built if the city and state ever decided to work together. It’s not as if we have hundreds of thousands of tourists passing through every year, and surely, none of them would want to bring bikes and have some real fun and get a little exercise while their relatives buy shitty souvenirs or go fishing.
It’s not as if we could tell the grumpy NIMBYs to shove it. It’s not as if we have the marketing power to sell our world-class terrain to the world. It's not as if we have thousands of hotel rooms ready and waiting for the bike riders who could easily get here from major airport hubs like Seattle, Salt Lake City and Minneapolis.
And it’s certainly not as if most of our municipal leaders have one-tenth the vision of the people who run Whitehorse.