The Alaska Railroad holds the fate of the Fish Creek Trail connection

by Lindsey Hajduk, Diana Rhoades, Anna Brawley, Christopher Constant, Daniel Volland, Meg Mielke, Austin Quinn-Davidson, and Heather Flynn

The Fish Creek Trail is a neighborhood jewel, connecting neighborhoods throughout West Anchorage. It offers a safe corridor that connects schools, parks, the Spenard Rec Center, and more. Soon, the trail will extend to the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, opening the corridor to many more Alaskans and visitors. However, one family is seeking a personal lease that would not only block the best trail route, but would cause delays and add millions to the cost of the project.

What started before 2016 as a grassroots effort called “Fish Creek Trail to the Ocean,” which would connect the Fish Creek Trail to Anchorage’s larger trail system, turned into years of planning, building community support, and securing funding to move the project forward. The Fish Creek Trail is well-loved by the public and a source of neighborhood pride. Since 2017, residents have hosted events to celebrate the trail and creek, including Fish Creek Festivals and Trick or Treat Fish Creek, an annual community event coming up this Halloween.

Today, the Fish Creek Trail extension has widespread support from community members and stakeholders. The proposed trail would travel north of Northern Lights Boulevard, past the pedestrian bridge and run along the west side of the railroad corridor, providing a safe route between Midtown, Downtown, and beyond. Over 1,000 people are expected to use the new trail each day.

Members of the Alaska Railroad have been at the table to ensure any proposed route will improve safety and not negatively affect its operations. The McCarrey family, however, is seeking a 95-year lease from the railroad for nearly one acre of property within the proposed trail route for “Personal Use Access.” None of the routes being considered would block access to private land in the project area. Rather, J.L. McCarrey, III, has said the request is to maintain privacy, telling the Alaska Landmine, “Respectfully I am not in favor of extending (the Fish Creek Trail) to the Coastal Trail.” The Alaska Railroad has to decide if it will put one family’s privacy wishes over the general public’s recreational opportunities and transportation options.

The municipality is considering multiple route options, but the public has overwhelmingly requested a route with the least environmental impacts to the estuary and wetlands, one that will be ADA accessible year-round, and one that uses our public funds in the most cost-effective way possible. All these criteria are pointing to one route, known as Alternative N3a, which would be blocked by the proposed lease sale.

Momentum has been building for years to extend the Fish Creek Trail, and the neighborhoods surrounding the trail are eager to welcome more visitors and improve access across town. We will continue to advocate for the trail that connects us to each other.

At the Alaska Railroad’s recent real estate committee meeting, they heard overwhelming support to decline the proposed lease, but its board will take up this issue in the coming months. You have until Sept. 21 to send your comments to the Alaska Railroad on the proposed McCarrey Lease Sale (Contract No. 20954). Comments can be emailed to public_comment@akrr.com. Join us in requesting that the Alaska Railroad decline this proposed lease sale, charting a path to finalizing the long-awaited Fish Creek Trail connection.