Anchorage Parks and Trails Attract and Retain a Quality Workforce

By Natasha Von Imhof

When my kids were young, we spent a lot of time walking the trails at Ruth Arcand Park. We were in the throes of the “Dogs go bow-bow and cats go meow” phase of development. When my kids saw a porcupine, they asked, “Mom, what does a porcupine say?” They had me stumped! But it started a decade of conversations regarding the importance of green space within urban Anchorage to allow for opportunities of porcupine sightings and other unusual experiences to enhance our typical day to day living.

I’m a firm believer in exercising and getting outside every day. During the legislative session in Juneau, I made a conscious effort to frequently walk in the evenings for exercise and to de-stress. I wore a headlamp, reflector vest, and cleats when necessary. During the weeks I was consistent, I noticed a drastic improvement in my sleep, energy level, digestive system, and overall outlook. I was happier and more effective at my job because I didn’t have as much back and hip pain. When I returned home after the legislative session, I continued to restore my body and mind in Anchorage’s amazing parks and outdoor spaces.

Covid fundamentally shifted the perspective of many working Alaskans, in that people are seeking a better work-life balance. If the crowded trail-head parking lots are any indication, it appears the balance includes outdoor exercise and communing with nature.

In addition, Alaska is poised to receive billions of dollars in federal funding for broadband, making working remotely more possible for many jobs. So how does Anchorage attract and retain a talented work force when people have their choice of locations to live? To put a finer point on it, how can our city accommodate the work-life balance that employees want for both themselves and their families? Anchorage needs to compete with Boise, Bozeman, and Bend by providing ample recreational opportunities available during all four seasons. Anchorage Park Foundation plays a key a role in this effort by providing opportunities for soccer, softball, skiing, and sledding, as well recreational play on the inclusive playground equipment, abundant picnics tables, covered pavilions, and well-maintained foot trails.

Alaska’s unique gem, that’s on the cusp of becoming a reality, is the Alaska Long Trail— a 500+ mile trail system connecting Seward to Fairbanks. Alaska Trails is leading this gamechanger for both residents and visitors alike, where a world class system of trails could improve access to  gorgeous, untapped wilderness across the state. Anchorage Park Foundation is taking the lead locally, making strides to identify the parts and pieces of trails around the city that will complete the Long Trail in Anchorage.

There are more people using the trails and parks than anytime in the past. This is great news! When there is an increase in demand, the best response is to increase the supply. Anchorage needs more parks, more trails, more public use cabins, more foot bridges, more rest areas…simply more opportunities at every location for every kind of user. The Anchorage Park Foundation is spearheading that effort.

Because of this, I support the Park Bonds this year and every year, because we need to take care of our outdoor spaces that are important to our health and quality of life, to our workforce, and to our economy.

Now that my children are older, the amount and quality of community greenspace plays a factor as they evaluate where they want to settle and raise their own families.  They understand that health and overall outlook on life can be improved by communing with nature. It can be as easy as a walk in the park.

Natasha Von Imhof is a former State Senator, mother of two young adults, and together with her husband and golden retreiver Jago, is an active trail user during all four seasons.