“I thought there would be more wildflowers” the woman said, four miles into her two-day through-hike of the Crow Pass Trail. Visiting from the lower 48, she didn’t know that if she had started her hike a week prior she would have been regaled with monk’s hood, dwarf dogwood, wintergreen, wild geranium, and western columbine, all in full bloom. A week later, and entire hillsides would be carpeted in brilliant fireweed. Even on that day there were plenty of flowers still around from the last bloom, but she would have to go deeper into the trail to see them. Just an hour drive from Anchorage, the trail, which is a section of the much larger Iditarod National Historic Trail, traverses unique and diverse ecosystems along the ~23 miles from Girdwood to the Eagle River Nature Center, and each ecosystem changes rapidly throughout the season. One could hike this single trail every week for half a year and have a brand new experience each time.
I know because that’s exactly what my partner, Karl, and I did as we fulfilled our positions as the Crow Pass Trail Ambassadors. We were documenting change, but rather than noting the changes brought by the seasons, our position was concerned with that of the human impacts related to the increasing popularity of the trail. As the Federal Administrator for the National Trail, the Bureau of Land Management hired the two of us through the Student Conservation Association, a non-profit organization which engages young people in environmental stewardship. The goal of the program was to monitor trail impacts, survey trail users, and use the opportunity to raise awareness about Leave No Trace (LNT). Across three or four-day hitches over the weekends from May to September, we were able to do this and more; we contacted over 400 trail users with our survey, photographed, mapped, and evaluated 65 dispersed camping locations, helped remove one failed bridge and repair another, constructed cairns, hauled out trash, removed trail blockages and more.