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Devil’s Creek Nordic Ski Loop is a Worthy Stop

By Amanda Sassi

Amanda Sassi heads out to ski on the Devil's Creek Nordic Loop

Amanda Sassi heads out to ski on the Devil’s Creek Nordic Loop

When driving through the variable roads between Turnagain Pass and Kenai Lake, you could likely zoom past the Devil’s Creek Trailhead. There are brown Forest Service signs that direct you toward the turn, but I inevitably miss it half the time.  It is a worthy stop, about halfway between Anchorage and Kenai or Seward, to get outside and stretch the legs. I used to stop year round because there is a nice outhouse and the Devil’s Creek Trail allows for a nice walk. Sometimes I’d bring my classic skis for a swift downhill to the first major bridge on Devil’s Creek Trail, about a mile in, and a subtle uphill to warm back up for the continued drive. The pull out is also large and tucked away to enjoy a little privacy from the highway unlike the pull offs around the Summit Lake area.

Last year that beloved trailhead parking area began hosting a more refined experience for those outdoor enthusiasts traveling through the area. The Cooper Landing Nordic Ski Club has secured the use of a defunct US Forest Service timber cutting area that ended in 2018 to groom and maintain winter trails.  It is a fun two loop system that travels through a gate at the back of the parking lot and down a single lane road to the cut zone. The trail then meanders through bare and papery birch trees leftover  from the cutting and gives sweeping views of the Kenai Mountains along the Seward Highway. It seems like a good place for wildlife viewing and the tree cutting may have been to promote moose habitat in the area. 

The Cooper Landing Nordic Ski Club started in 2009 “with an aim to improve winter recreation opportunities around the Upper Kenai” according to their website. It is a volunteer run organization full of passionate people looking to create an outdoor experience for many user groups and people of all ages. They have grown to over 15 miles of groomed Nordic skiing including the areas of Russian River Campground, the end of Quartz Creek Road, and the Devil’s Creek Trailhead. Depending on the snow, they set classic tracks and groom wide enough for skate skiing when possible.  

At this time all modes of travel are allowed on their groomed trails including; classic and skate skiing, skijoring, snowshoeing, fat tire biking, walking, and dog walking. The grooming report webpage has great information about the conditions and some education to help folks understand how to use the trails sustainably and conscientiously for other trail users . Good trail etiquette includes the following practices:

  • Think before you sink
  • Non-skier traffic please stay to one side of the trail
    Devil's Creek Nordic Loop Map

    Devil’s Creek Nordic Loop Map

  • Downhill skiers have right of way
  • Pick up your dog’s poop
  • Avoid freshly groomed trails for a couple hours while they set up

The two loops are similar: one is long and narrow at 2.3 miles (yellow) and the other is short and stout at 2 miles (orange).  At the back of the 2.3 mile trail is a quick and swift downhill.  The total climb and descent for the longer trail is about 180 vertical feet, not all in one go, it’s more of a rolling trail. The 2 mile trail shortcuts the longer one with an exhilarating downhill before a short climb back to the trail alignment.  The shorter trail has a total of 130 vertical feet up and down. Jim, from the Seward Ranger District, felt that when going counter clockwise, the uphill does not feel like it is the same amount of climbing as descending, it is so gradual. Both trails brought me great joy, beautiful weather, and stunning scenery as I traveled to and from Kenai in early February.

The Cooper Landing Nordic Ski Club is supported through membership and brings these opportunities to the public free of charge.  You can choose your own adventure en route depending on the conditions by visiting the grooming report.

 

Kids at the start of the KMTA Classic 2k race.
Kids at the start of the KMTA Classic 2k race.

KMTA Classic Brought A Day of Fun to the 5K Nordic Loop in Girdwood

Kids at the start of the KMTA Classic 2k race in Girdwood, Alaska

Kids at the start of the KMTA Classic 2k race.

Skiing Community Comes to Girdwood for the Inaugural KMTA Classic

On Sunday, February 27th the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area (KMTA) partnered with Girdwood Nordic Ski Club (GNSC) to bring together the skiing community for a family friendly event at the Girdwood 5K Nordic Loop. The inaugural KMTA Classic drew 89 competitors to the trail, including four adorable 4-year-olds and some tough Alaskan ladies with children on their backs. 

The KMTA Classic in Girdwood, AK was an all-age event including some 4-year-olds.

The KMTA Classic was an all-age event including some 4-year-olds.

After a hard freeze and a fresh groom, the sun broke through the misty morning chill, brightening the day and the festivities.  The surprisingly warm conditions may have actually given an advantage to those who brought their scaled skis when climbing the Nordic Loop’s many hills, and that led to a few kick wax mishaps for others.

The event consisted of three races: a 2K, a timed 5K and a 2x2x2 relay. Race starts were staggered throughout the course of the afternoon starting, and boasted a rich array of skiers. Anna Darnell came in first for the women’s division of the 5K with a time of 16 minutes and 57 seconds, while Ari Endestad took first for the men’s with a time of 14 minutes and 11 seconds. They each took home a $100 gift certificate and lift tickets to Alyeska Resort. Prizes were awarded to winners of all the events and included gift cards to Powder Hound Ski, Girdwood Brewery, and The Bake Shop. All participants received a free ice cream cone from the Ice Cream Shop in Girdwood and a KMTA Classic sticker. Many specially-branded GNSC wool socks were also handed out to racers, because who doesn’t need more wool socks to help us Alaskans keep our toes warm through all our winter adventures!

The Classic Celebrates the History of the 5K Nordic Loop

The KMTA Classic celebrated the history of the race loop and its users. The GNSC, with the support of a KMTA grant, is actually creating interpretive signs for the 5K Nordic Loop that highlight the l

egacy of the 1969 Junior National Ski Race and the 10K trail that was constructed for it and maintained for a decade thereafter. This trail– the first recreational-purpose trail built in Girdwood– helped bring tourism and ski racing to Alaska. In fact, the 1969 Junior National Ski Race was the first national race held by the Nordic Ski Club of Alaska. The remarkable Shirley Firth from Inuvik championed that race and, unbeknownst to many, went on to become one of the first Indigenous women to compete in international ski racing, eventually as an Olympian. The Nordic 5K Loop we know and love today is actually built over a portion of that historic 10K trail, and boasts small handmade signs hidden throughout the forest that show the original route. 

Thank You to All Who Made This Possible

Deb Essex, race director of the KMTA Classic in Girdwood, Alaska and Amanda Sassi take a moment to smile for the camera.

Deb Essex, race director of the KMTA Classic and Amanda Sassi take a moment to smile for the camera.

Events like the KMTA Classic help grow appreciation for the trail systems available in the heritage area. “These kids love the Girdwood trails, and will most likely grow up to be trail advocates and lifelong skiers.” said founding GNSC member and race coordinator Deb Essex. Access to these trails and the opportunity to host events like this would not be possible without the incredible support of the Girdwood community and its many dedicated volunteers. “The next generation of volunteers and history buffs are discovering why this is so important, and they don’t even know it yet.”

We are extremely thankful to all of the businesses that partnered with us including Alyeska Resort, The Bake Shop, Girdwood Brewing Company, The Ice Cream Shop, Powder Hound Ski and Zip Kombucha.

Winners of the KMTA Classic 5K Timed Race celebrate their win in Girdwood, Alaska

Winners of the 5K Timed Race celebrate their win.

Youth Winners of the KMTA Classic 5K Timed race in Girdwood, Alaska

Youth Winners of the 5K Timed race.

The race proceeds will help KMTA and GNSC further their respective missions. KMTA works to promote, protect, and preserve the natural and historic landscape of the region ranging from Hope to Seward, Cooper Landing to Girdwood. The GNSC’s goal is to create a world-class Nordic and Multi-Use trail system within the Girdwood valley for year round-enjoyment. 

We look forward to partnering with each other for another KMTA Classic in spring of 2023.

The final race results can be found here. Pictures from the event can be found on our Facebook page.

The KMTA 2021 Annual Report is Here!

 

Students at the new version of Anchorage Outdoor School.

The past year included some new events including the Spencer Dash 5k, the KMTA Trail Challenge, and an updated version of Anchorage Outdoor School Week, and we saw the return of the Mineshaft Grinder after a year hiatus. We also awarded 15 grants and saw the promotion of 16 grant projects.

We look forward to another year of building and strengthening partnerships, serving our communities, and preserving our corridor’s rich history.

Check out our short and sweet (it’s only 4 pages!) annual report by clicking below.

Check out our short and sweet (it’s only 4 pages!) annual report by downloading below.

KMTA Classic Race Results Are Posted!

Join Us on February 27th in Girdwood!

Calling all Nordic skiers! We are thrilled to announce the inaugural KMTA Classic, a family friendly classic ski race on the 5k Nordic Loop in Girdwood, AK. Co-hosted by KMTA and the Girdwood Nordic Ski Club, this event will celebrate the joy of Nordic skiing and the rich history of the region. Join us on February 27th for some fun in the snow! All proceeds will go to benefit the Girdwood Nordic Ski Club and Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area.

RACE OPTIONS

2k Course:

  • Short and sweet!

5k Timed Course:

  • Intermediate course
  • Start at the kiosk and follow the trail past the first cut off, take the next cut off to loop back to the kiosk for a victorious finish!
  • Race may be shortened if there is inclement weather that makes parts of the course dangerous.

2x2x2 Relay:

  • 2 skiers ski two laps which are 2k each lap.
    • Skier 1 skis the 2k, tags skier 2.
    • Skier 2 skis the 2k, tags skier 1.
    • Skier 1 skis the 2k, tags skier 2.
    • Skier 2 skis the 2k and crosses the finish line!

RACE FEES & REGISTRATION

  • Only pay once per person and participate in 1, 2, or all 3 events. Registration fees below:
    • Adult: $30
    • Youth 13-18: $15
    • Youth 12 and under: Free
  • No refunds are available.
  • Online Registration ends at 6 PM on February 26th. On-site registration will be available the morning of the race at 11 AM.

START TIME

The event will start at 12pm with the 2K race, followed by the 5K Race and then Relays.

BIB PICK UP

Bib pick up will be open at 10am on Race Day and be located right next to the 5K parking area at the end of Arlberg Road.

PRIZES AND GIVEAWAYS

Thank you to all our donors for their awesome prizes and giveaways”

  • Alyeska Resort gift certificates, ski lift passes and a gift basket!
  • The Bake Shop gift certificates
  • The Ice Cream Shop gift certificates
  • The Powder Hound gift certificates

DIRECTIONS AND PARKING

The 5K Nordic loop is 45 minutes from Anchorage and right next to Alyeska Resort. Park at the paved Arlberg parking lot located at the end of Arlberg Road. This is a new road so it might not show up on older GPS units. Alternative parking is available in Parking Lot A, where you can then walk/ski to the Nordic Trailhead. You can find out more information about the trail and the location here and here.

SPECTATORS

Spectators, please join the fun on your skis and cheer at the finish or along the course! Space for standing will be limited near the start and in these pandemic times, being a ski length away can give others comfort and healthy distance. Thanks for coming to support your Nordic community!

WANT A KMTA CLASSIC SHIRT OR SWEATSHIRT?

KMTA Classic sweatshirts are available! Click here to check out the shirt options.

THE “WHY” BEHIND THE KMTA CLASSIC

Shirley Firth

One of KMTA’s greatest privileges is helping local partners bring the colorful histories of our heritage area communities to life. The Girdwood Nordic Ski Club (GNSC) is one such partner working to create interpretive signs for the 5K Nordic Loop through support from a KMTA grant. The goal of these interpretive signs is to highlight the legacy of the 1969 Junior National Ski Race and the 10K trail that was constructed for it and maintained for a decade thereafter. This trail– the first recreational-purpose trail built in Girdwood– helped bring tourism and ski racing to Alaska. In fact, the 1969 Junior National Ski Race was the first national race held by the Nordic Ski Club of Alaska. The remarkable Shirley Firth from Inuvik championed that race and, unbeknownst to many, went on to become one of the first Indigenous women to compete in international ski racing, eventually as an Olympian.

The Nordic 5K Loop we know and love today is actually built over a portion of that historic 10K trail, and boasts small handmade signs hidden throughout the forest that show the original route. The KMTA Classic will celebrate the significance of this place, its users, and its storied heritage. 

FUNDRAISER FOR THE KMTA NHA

Race proceeds will benefit the Girdwood Nordic Ski Club and KMTA’s efforts to recognize, preserve, and interpret the historic, scenic, natural resources, and cultural landscape of the KMTA historic transportation corridor through our various community heritage programs.

KMTA deeply appreciates the leadership of our co-host the Girdwood Nordic Ski Club in developing and maintaining a world class Nordic trail system in the Girdwood Valley, and encouraging responsible use through advocacy, education and stewardship.

QUESTIONS?

Registration Questions: karenlewis@kmtacorridor.org  Race Questions: deb@skigirdwood.org and rachelblakeslee@kmtacorridor.org

SPONSORS:

 

Need Help With The Grant Application Process

 

Man attending a webinar while the sun sets.

Informational Grant Video Slides and Presentation

Questions:

Contact Amanda Sassi at amandasassi@kmtacorridor.org

To watch the video or to view the slides click below.

Max Romey watches as the sun begins to set in Seward, sharing a glimpse of the watercolor scene he just created.
Max Romey watches as the sun begins to set in Seward, sharing a glimpse of the watercolor scene he just created.

Trailbound Alaska Documentary Showcases the Historic Iditarod Trail

Max Romey watches as the sun begins to set in Seward, sharing a glimpse of the watercolor scene he just created.

Max Romey watches as the sun begins to set in Seward, sharing a glimpse of the watercolor scene he just created.

“Trailbound Alaska”, a KMTA grant  funded film is finally ready to debut at the Bear Tooth this spring. The documentary is the brainchild of filmmaker Max Romey.  In the summer of 2020, “Trailbound Alaska”, a grassroots film project, set off to retrace the Iditarod National Historic Trail with a pair of running shoes and a sketchbook. It shares the journey of the “Southern Trek,” an incomplete 120-mile section that travels through the Chugach National Forest. Starting at Mile Zero in Seward, a group of local runners including Denali Strabel, ( a top 5 finisher in the mulitple Mt. Marathon races), Lars Arneson (a competitive runner and paraglider), Eve Van Dommelen (Max’s wife and anti-hunger advocate), and Max Romey adventure over mountain passes, through raging gorges, and impassable terrain, to go from Seward to Girdwood in a four-day push

Eve Van Dommelen films Max Romey, Lars Arneson, and Denali Strabel just before they start the Southern Trek journey at Mile 0 of the Iditarod National Historic Trail (INHT) in Seward.

Eve Van Dommelen films Max Romey, Lars Arneson, and Denali Strabel just before they start the Southern Trek journey at Mile 0 of the Iditarod National Historic Trail (INHT) in Seward.

“For so many years, I failed to recognize the KMTA corridor beyond it being a highway on my way to Seward for Mount Marathon. But, after spending just a little time exploring, it has opened up an entirely new world for me. Between the history and landscapes and the ways the trails connect the two, you could spend an entire lifetime discovering this area and not get tired of it.” Romey said.

The “Trailbound Alaska” films utilize a combination of documentary-style footage, personal interviews, and watercolor sketches. The Southern Trek film will blend a complex range of topics found within the KMTA corridor to share a big picture of the area while also including personal narratives.

Lars, Max, Denali, and Eric Strabel (Denali's husband) take a quick break along the Primrose Trail, a segment of the INHT.

Lars, Max, Denali, and Eric Strabel (Denali’s husband) take a quick break along the Primrose Trail, a segment of the INHT.

“Trails are a gateway into one of the most interesting and diverse landscapes I have ever experienced. They are a pathway both into an unbelievable setting and history that I had not known about prior. After exploring just a piece of it now, I cannot wait to continue to explore this region.”

“Trailbound Alaska” was accepted and shown at five film festivals and was the keynote at three events, including a presentation to the Alaska Wilderness League. “The interactions, especially the local ones, have been really rewarding and have started some great conversations. One of my favorite parts has been updating people on how the trail is growing and changing with the new bridges and sections that have been added. It’s great to have this little snapshot into where the trails was in 2020 as it will become a fascinating time capsule for years to come, capturing what has changed and what has stayed the same” 

Want to keep up with the latest KMTA news – sign up below to receive our monthly newsletters or follow us on social media.

KMTA’s 2022 Annual Grant Cycle Is Now Open

KMTA awards grants to community projects that recognize, preserve, and interpret the historic, scenic, and natural recreational resources and cultural landscapes of the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm historic transportation corridor. Projects promote and facilitate public enjoyment of these resources. Applications are due by March 11th, 2022. Email Amanda Sassi at amandasassi@kmtacorridor.org or click here for more info.

Girdwood Trail Signs Increase Accessibility to the Outdoors

“Signs are probably the quickest and easiest way to leave the trail user with a positive impression.  If signs are high quality, well maintained, and properly located, other trail problems are often over-looked.  Consistent signs are the quickest way to increase the trail’s identity and the public’s support for the trail.” – National Park Service

The Girdwood Trails Committee has been the recipient of six grants from KMTA.  Three of which included interpretive signs and wayfinding as part of the grant.  The Beaver Pond Trails and Lower Iditarod Trail Signage has already been designed and installed.  Soon there will be signage at the Virgin Creek Falls Trail and Stumpy’s Winter Trail. The consistency of sign design and wayfinding markers throughout a trail system is important to increase the quality of visitor experience. Now a trail user can know what to expect throughout the Girdwood Valley for safety and local interpretation.  These signs are also a treasure trove of historic and natural information, as well, helping the user connect to the trail and location.

“The signs have increased accessibility to the outdoors. As more people access trails since the pandemic began, there are many folks who are now using trails that are not as familiar with the system. It is good for these new users to feel both comfortable with where they are and to know how to get help if they get in trouble,” said Barbara Crews, vice-chair, Girdwood Trails Committee.

The Beaver Pond Trails Signage consists of five signs throughout that trail network. Girdwood Trails Committee is good about partnering with local youth to complete their projects which is part of the KMTA Sustainability Plan.  This project was an Eagle Scout project for a Boy Scout Troop and they helped with a majority of the installation.  This $5,650 grant was matched with $11,455 non federal dollars in cash and in kind donations.  Twenty four volunteers participated in the implementation of the signs.  Partners included the Chugach State Park, Boy Scout Troop 2019 of Anchorage, Girdwood Board of Supervisors, Girdwood’s Fire Chief, and the Municipality of Anchorage-Heritage Land Bank. “KMTA has been a wonderful influence on Girdwood because we now have relevant historical panels in the town center and on our trail system,” said Kate Sandberg, a Girdwood Trails Committee Member.

 We are so happy to partner with the Girdwood Trails Committee to help them continue their good work!

Photo by Matthew Crockett
Photo by Matthew Crockett

2022 KMTA Haiku Poetry Contest

 

What Do You Love About The KMTA?

The Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm (KMTA) National Heritage Area is seeking haikus that express what you love about the KMTA area!

The KMTA area bridges Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound via mountains, glacial valleys, and plentiful rivers. It includes the communities of Bird, Indian, Girdwood, Whittier, Portage, Hope, Moose Pass, Seward and Cooper Landing. (See KMTA Area Map at the end of the rules.)

We want to hear from you in the form of haiku what makes the National Heritage Area a place you love to live and recreate in…

Eligibility – Open to all U.S. residents who are at least 5 years or older. Employees and Board Members of the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm CCA and their immediate family members are not eligible to enter.

How To Enter – Entries will be accepted through Monday, January 31st, 2022. All entries must be a true haiku with 5 syllables on the 1st line, 7 syllables on the 2nd line, and 5 syllables on the 3rd line. Contestants may enter up to three (3) haikus. All haikus must be the sole, original work of the entrant. Please include a title and your KMTA inspiration. Submit your entries at the bottom of the page. 

KMTA will not be responsible for incomplete, lost, late, misdirected, or illegible entries, entries that exceed the word limit or for failure to receive entries due to transmission failures or technical failures of any kind.

Finalists/Winner Selection – The judging panel will judge all eligible entries according to the following criteria: 25% on creativity of the haiku, 25% on content and writing of the haiku and 50% on relevance to the KMTA National Heritage Area. The rating scale for each criteria will range from one (1) to ten (10), with ten (10) being the best score. In the event of a tie, tied entries will be re-judged on the same criteria listed above. There will be one winner selected from the youth category (ages 5-17) and one winner selected from the adult category (18+).

Copyright – By entering the contest, each contestant grants Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area an exclusive, royalty-free and irrevocable right and license to publish, print, edit or otherwise use the contestant’s submitted entry, in whole or in part, for any purpose and in any manner or media (including, without limitation, the Internet) throughout the world in perpetuity, and to license others to do so, all without limitation or further compensation.

Prizes – There will be one winner selected from the youth category (ages 5-17) and one winner selected from the adult category (18+). A $25 Gift Certificate will be awarded to each winner.

Winner Notification – Winners will be announced just in time for the day of love: February 14th, 2022

Questions – Contact Karen Lewis at karenlewis@kmtacorridor.org

The Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area’s mission is to to recognize, preserve, and interpret the historic, scenic, natural resources, and cultural landscape of the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm historic transportation corridor.

Map of KMTA National Heritage Area

Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area Boundaries

Message From Our Board President Jeff Samuels

Greetings-

This has been quite a year (once again) and I wanted to take a moment to share some appreciation with all of you as we approach 2022. While we’ve encountered some significant personal and community challenges and losses, we’ve had some bright moments along the way.

First of all: Lydia Jacoby!! What a hero for Seward- while I had absolutely nothing to do with her gold medal performance at the Summer Olympics, I am as proud of her as if she were my own family.

For KMTA, we were able to grant over $90,000 to non profits and other organizations doing good things for the KMTA communities in the midst of a global pandemic. The work in many cases is doing steady and persistent good, the kind that surpasses the immediate hardship of the moment. We offer funding and support for projects with a long horizon: improvements to historic structures, program support which invests in local youth, and trail signage, construction, and maintenance which improves access to the outdoors at a time where mental balance is so important.

KMTA also saw some changes and new events this past year including:

  • Improvements in increased funding from the National Park Service and the introduction of a bill by Senator Lisa Murkowski to reauthorize the KMTA NHA beyond 2024.
  • Incorporating a land acknowledgment into our meetings as an act of gratitude for the thousands of years of Indigenous stewardship of the area we care so much about.
  • In addition to another successful Mineshaft Grinder, we partnered with Chugach Adventures and hosted a new race event – the Spencer 5K Dash at the Spencer Whistlestop, a crowd-pleaser which engaged a happy group to run alongside the beautiful Spencer Glacier on a sunny afternoon.

  • The KMTA Trail Challenge took flight this summer as a way to encourage activity on our beautiful trails in the KMTA area.

  • The Anchorage Outdoor School ran a successful program this fall, as teachers, volunteers, and elementary school students shared time learning about their outdoor environment.

  • In October, we made the executive director transition saying bon voyage to Jessica and her family after three years in the ED role. Thank you so much for the time, energy and ideas you shared with this organization. With each change in leadership comes new opportunities to grow in different ways, and we are excited for Rachel Blakeslee to have the helm!

Thank you to all who are involved in the National Heritage Area. Your participation in grants, events, and programming is greatly appreciated! All the best to each of you in the coming year.

Sincerely,

Jeff Samuels, Board President