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Archive for December, 2020

(The following article and photographs were produced by Sitka Conservation Society winter fellow Amy Li and a version originally appeared on the Sitka Trail Works website. It is reprinted here with permission.)

Bikes have been making a comeback. From the drastic increase in bike purchases to a newfound dependence on biking as a means of transportation, the COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in a new age for bicycles and Sitka has been no different.

Sitkans have been rediscovering the power of the pedal, both as a cost-effective means for getting around town and for exercise. By the end of June, Sitka’s bicycle shop Yellow Jersey Cycling Shop had sold out of its inventory and has had difficulty restocking ever since. The skyrocketing interest has also led to more creative approaches to biking. This summer, the Sitka Cycling Club spearheaded an innovative effort within the community: mountain bike trails. With the socially-distanced dedication of volunteers from all ages and backgrounds, four new mountain bike trails were brought to life along the Sitka Cross Trail.

Mountain biking offers a different way of engaging with the sport for the new wave of Sitka cyclists. “Sitka has been deficient in mountain bike trails over the years. We’ve had dirt roads that you could ride on, but as far as mountain biking, there weren’t any significant trails in town,” Yellow Jersey Cycling Shop owner Bill Hughes said. “But now with the new trails, I think it’s going to open up a lot of new recreational opportunities for people.”

Mountain biker and Sitka Cycling Club volunteer KK Prussian concurs. “I think the diversity of recreation that mountain bike trails bring is a whole new thing for Sitka. I’m really hoping it will give the youth something they’re really excited about and build stewardship with them,” she said.

Although Sitka might seem like the perfect place for mountain biking enthusiasts, with its lush forested scenery and steep inclines, mountain bike trails, and trails in general, but building trails is a large undertaking.

Despite these challenges, and the COVID-19 pandemic, community members came out in force to build new MTB trails along the Cross Trail this summer. Hauling five-gallon buckets of gravel by hand, the trails — named 907, Ewok, Little Machete, and Middle Machete Loop — were brought to life by volunteers with the Sitka Cycling Club. These four trails, however, are rated for more advanced mountain bikers.

Both Hughes and Prussian advocated for easier routes for those new to the sport, as well as adding length to the newly built trails.

Prussian explained that the amount of “easy” trail that was feasible to build was minimal “because of the terrain we have, the limited scope we have with volunteers, and the lack of heavy equipment.”

Indeed, building mountain bike trails requires planning, labor, gravel and fill, and, ideally, heavy machinery. Fortunately, Sitka Conservation Society (SCS) Community Conservation Corps (CCC) program lead Ben Hughey, project lead Blain Anderson, and the hard-working Corps have pulled together all of those prerequisites. In partnership with Sitka Trail Works, Sitka Cycling Club, Southeast Alaska Independent Living (SAIL), and others, the Community Conservation Corps has constructed an additional trail in the recently built mountain bike trail network.

The new spur, which comes in on the Cross Trail connector behind Sitka High School, connects with two existing MTB trails, Ewok and 907. It is roughly 600 feet in length and, with smaller grades and elevation changes, is well-suited for beginning mountain bikers. Thanks to a mini excavator and motorized gravel dump, the newly built section of single-track trail has a wider and smoother tread compared to the existing MTB trails. This beginner trail will allow community members a safe and approachable entry point for the sport.

Prussian hopes that the MTB community in Sitka will expand, thanking the City for supporting recreation projects like this.

“I’d love to see a year-round program of young adults adding to the length and maintaining the trails on an annual basis,” she said, citing benefits of healthy lifestyles and land stewardship. “I think that would be outstanding.”

For now, the Corps will continue to clear hazard trees, lay logs, and pile gravel in the hopes that this new trail will get more people outside, on their bikes, exploring their public lands.

A slideshow of images showing trail construction follows below.

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Sitka Cycling Club President Doug Osborne, left, and Sitka Cycling Club Treasurer Charles Bingham show off their Bicycle Friendly Community Silver Level designation swag in 2016. Sitka just renewed its Bicycle Friendly Community designation at the Silver Level for 2020-24.

The League of American Bicyclists announced on Wednesday (Dec. 16) that it has renewed the Silver Level designation for Sitka, Alaska, in the Bicycle Friendly Community program.

The Bicycle Friendly Community program promotes safer streets and better bicycling by awarding various levels to communities based on how their city or town meets standards in the Five E’s — Education, Encouragement, Enforcement, Engineering, and Evaluation/Planning. A new E, Equity, is being introduced to the judging process and will replace Enforcement in future applications. Communities are required to resubmit applications at least once every four years.

This is the fourth time Sitka has been honored with a Bicycle Friendly Community (BFC) award. Sitka became Alaska’s first BFC in 2008, after community members chose becoming a more bike- and walk-friendly community as one of the community wellness projects from the first Sitka Health Summit in 2007. Sitka renewed at the Bronze Level in 2012, and upgraded to the Silver Level in 2016. In addition, Sitka also earned the state’s first Walk Friendly Communities designations with Bronze Level awards in 2013 and 2017 (WFC is a newer program coordinated by the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center and supported by the Pedestrian and Bicycling Information Center).

“This is great news,” Sitka Cycling Club President Doug Osborne said. “Thanks to the League (of American Bicyclists) and everyone in town who’s helping us to be a Bicycle Friendly Community. Being a bike friendly community was identified as a top goal at the first Sitka Health Summit planning day in 2007. Since then, we have made steady progress and now we have more places to ride.”

Wednesday’s announcement honored 51 communities as renewing or new Bicycle Friendly Communities at the Platinum (1), Gold (3), Silver (11) or Bronze (38) levels (there also is a Diamond Level that wasn’t awarded this time). In addition, there were 16 communities that earned Honorable Mention status, just below the full BFC designation. Since 2002, the League of American Bicyclists has awarded 485 BFC designations in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and has received applications from more than 850 communities. There now are five BFCs in Alaska — Sitka (Silver), Anchorage (Silver), Juneau (Bronze), Kenai (Bronze) and Soldotna (Bronze) — and two Honorable Mentions (Fairbanks and Haines).

“During one of the toughest years in recent memory, we have seen so many Americans turn to biking during the pandemic for fun and for necessary transportation options. It’s so important that communities like Sitka have laid the groundwork over several years to make biking a safe, accessible option for people when we all need as much health and happiness as possible,” said Bill Nesper, executive director of the League of American Bicyclists. “This Bicycle Friendly Community award is the culmination of years of work put in by Sitka and its citizen advocates for better biking. This award round, Sitka joins 51 new and renewing Bicycle Friendly Communities in the movement toward healthier, more sustainable and connected places. As we turn the page on 2020 and look ahead to 2021, we’re proud that Sitka and communities like it are embracing bicycling as a solution to our collective recovery.”

The Bicycle Friendly Community program is part of the League of American Bicyclist’s larger Bicycle Friendly America program, which also includes Bicycle Friendly State, Bicycle Friendly Business, and Bicycle Friendly University designations. Sitka’s largest employer, the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) Sitka Campus, holds a Bronze Level Bicycle Friendly Business designation.

During normal years, Sitka is known for hosting a variety of community bike rides and education events, such as National Bike Month events in May and a Kidical Mass family friendly bike ride in September, and having one of the state’s highest rates of people who commute to work by bike. But the COVID-19 pandemic limited those activities this spring and summer.

Sitka still accomplished several cycling-positive projects over the past couple of years, such as building four single-track mountain bike trail loops off the Sitka Cross Trail this summer, opening the Salty Spoke bike cooperative at Hames Wellness Center, rebranding the Sitka Bicycle Friendly Community Coalition as the Sitka Cycling Club and getting nearly 250 club members to register, starting a citywide bicycle parking plan, starting a Sitka mountain bike trails plan, launching a Bicycle Benefits program where cyclists can show participating merchants a sticker on their helmets to receive a discount at local businesses, and hosting the 2019 Alaska Walk and Bike Conference that included a two-day Smart Cycling training (Sitka also was scheduled to host the 2020 conference before it went virtual due to the pandemic).

To learn more about the Sitka Cycling Club, go to https://sitkacycling.wordpress.com or like our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/SitkaCycling. Links to Sitka’s Bicycle Friendly Community application and report card can be found under the Documents tab on the Sitka Cycling Club website (previous year applications can be found by scrolling down the page). To learn more about the League of American Bicyclists and its Bicycle Friendly Community program, go to http://www.bikeleague.org/community.

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