“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.
Our last month was spent analyzing the data we gathered and writing reports to help guide future management decisions for the Chugach State Park, the National Forest, the Eagle River Nature Center, and the Bureau of Land Management. Hopefully in future years this same process will be conducted to develop baseline data, find trends, and to help agencies understand the results of any management decisions which are made.
Getting to hike and work in one of the most beautiful places on earth all summer was a dream come true, and while I am moving on now, I will always remember this experience: The beauty of the trail, with its stunning vistas, varied landscapes, and brilliant flora and fauna, the kindness of the community, who were happy to share their stories (and snacks) with us, and the experience of combining my passion for the outdoors with my career, will make it truly unforgettable. A huge thank you to everyone who made this opportunity possible. Happy trails, and I’ll see you out there!