Sitka becomes first town in Alaska to earn bronze-level Walk Friendly Communities designation


TotemTrailEntranceThe City and Borough of Sitka became the first town in Alaska to earn a bronze-level Walk Friendly Communities designation, when the program announced eight new WFC awards (four bronze and four silver) on Tuesday, Oct. 29, from the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC) offices in Chapel Hill, N.C.

“Once again, our community is miles ahead of other Alaska towns in its ability to take healthy steps,” Sitka Mayor Mim McConnell said. “The Walk Friendly Communities designation was a goal chosen at last year’s Sitka Health Summit, and it was a good one. This is a great achievement. And now, as a result of the award, we have the necessary steps outlined for us to continue to improve our policies, programs and standards. Congratulations to the team working to achieve these high standards.”

The WFC award is the result of a 2012 Sitka Health Summit community wellness project, where community members decided they wanted to improve and recognize Sitka as a walkable community. The Walk Sitka work group followed a national template developed by the Walk Friendly Communities program designed to help cities and towns become more walkable. The community assessment tool/application (click here for Sitka’s application) helps communities identify their walking strengths and weaknesses by asking dozens of questions in the following categories — community profile, current status of walking, planning, education and encouragement, engineering, enforcement, and evaluation.

NewDowntownBannersThe WFC program is similar to the Bicycle Friendly Community program. Sitka also is the first BFC town in Alaska, earning a bronze-level designation in 2008 and a renewal bronze award in 2012 (as Sitka Health Summit projects).

“When we started this project, we wanted to complete this application as much for the process and help finding our strengths and weaknesses as for the award,” said Charles Bingham, who helped coordinate the Walk Sitka group and wrote the WFC application. “We’re happy to win the award, but we’re also happy for the feedback we received to help make Sitka a more walkable community.”

Walk Friendly Communities is a national recognition program developed to encourage towns and cities across the U.S. to establish or recommit to a high priority for supporting safer walking environments, according to the program’s website. The WFC program recognizes communities that are working to improve a wide range of conditions related to walking, including safety, mobility, access, and comfort.

“The majority of trips in the car are for less than three miles, and if we can encourage people to walk or bike instead we promote a culture of wellness,” Bingham said. “Not only are people getting heart-healthy physical health benefits from walking, there are benefits for mental and emotional health when you take a walk in the woods. In addition, by walking and biking we reduce the amount of car exhaust we have to breathe, and there are economic benefits when we have walkable communities. There also are increased social connections when people, because neighbors can chat with each other instead of being barricaded in a steel box on wheels.”

Several Mount Edgecumbe High School students walk across the O'Connell Bridge on Friday, March 29.

The eight new Walk Friendly Communities for Fall 2013 were Asheville, N.C.; Burlington, Vt.; Montclair, N.J.; and Tallahassee, Fla.; at the silver level; and Atlanta; Bloomington, Ind.; La Cross, Wis.; and Sitka; at the bronze level. They bring the nation’s total to 44 awardees in the program at four levels — bronze, silver, gold, and platinum (Seattle is the lone platinum WFC). In 2011, Juneau received an honorable mention in the program but has not earned a full WFC designation. The Walk Friendly Communities designation is good for five years, and Sitka doesn’t have to renew its award until the spring of 2018.

“Cities of all sizes continue to realize the importance of being walkable,” said Carl Sundstrom, WFC program manager. “The latest eight communities to earn the Walk Friendly designation are representative of nearly all cities in the U.S., ranging from a major metropolitan area to mid-sized college towns to one of the nation’s oldest communities. The rate at which the program continues to grow is exciting, and I look forward to sharing the successes of communities across the nation with each additional application round.”

SarahAndEricJordanCheckOutBoatsOnSitkaSeaWalkThe Walk Friendly Communities program has two application periods each year. Each application is reviewed by at least three reviewers to provide a fair assessment of the community and technical feedback on how to improve the community’s walkability.

According to Sitka’s community report card and feedback (posted at the bottom of this article):

“In reviewing your application, there were several areas we were particularly impressed with, including:

  • A consistently high walking mode share for a town of this size, indicating that people are able to walk safely and comfortably. It is equally important to see the low (vehicle-pedestrian) crash rate.
  • The level of planning effort and community support for Sitka’s trail system, which provides important recreation opportunities for residents and visitors.
  • Slow speed limits downtown and in school zones, paired with pedestrian countdown signals at Sitka’s two main intersections.

“Sitka has exhibited a desire to become a community that supports active transportation. The application to the Walk Friendly Communities program is an endorsement of that desire and it is our hope that the feedback and information we provide can help your community improve in this regard. We also hope that, by identifying Sitka as a Bronze Walk Friendly Community and highlighting some of these impressive programs on our website, other communities can follow your example and build their own successful programs.”

WinterWalkingStPetersThe Walk Friendly Communities program was launched in October 2010. It is funded by FedEx and the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). It is coordinated by the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC), which is maintained by the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center under a cooperative agreement with the FHWA.

The next WFC application period opens on Friday, Nov. 1, and the application deadline is Dec. 15.  Interested communities can go to, where they can learn more about the program and review the community assessment tool.

• Sitka, Alaska, 2013 Walk Friendly Communities Report Card and Feedback

• National press release for October 2013 Walk Friendly Communities

• Walk Friendly Communities talking points (October 2013)

Sitka National Historical Park trail-building crews start work on River View Trail improvements

A National Park Service trail crew is working on the River View Trail in Sitka National Historical Park. (Rachel Waldholz, KCAW-Raven Radio)

A National Park Service trail crew is working on the River View Trail in Sitka National Historical Park. (Rachel Waldholz, KCAW-Raven Radio)

This week, the Sitka National Historical Park welcomed a trail-building work crew from Skagway that started making improvements to the park’s River View Trail. Details about the project were made public in this story that aired Thursday, Oct. 24, on KCAW-Raven Radio, and in the press release posted below.

Improvements Abound in Sitka National Historical Park

SITKA NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK  (Oct. 23, 2013) — Great things are on the horizon at Sitka National Historical Park.  Here is a preview of the many improvements slated for this winter.

Work begins this week on the long-awaited completion the River View Trail.  The first phase of the trail project, which was completed in 2011, evolved as a response to the Sitka Sustainable Outdoor Recreation Action Plan.  This plan identified the community’s desire to see improved access through the park and the development of underutilized areas.  The second phase of this project will shift focus to the repair and rehabilitation of the old section of trail that was previously owned by Sheldon Jackson College and which terminates at the bike path on Sawmill Creek Road.  This project is funded in part by entrance and campground fees collected throughout the National Park Service units.

Over the course of the next four weeks, Sitka National Historical Park staff in conjunction with the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park (Skagway) trail crew will work together to improve the trail’s existing grade, remove wooden stairs and eliminate potential tripping hazards. The trail will be compacted and made sustainable for the future.  For those who are interested in being a part of this trail improvement project, the park will host a volunteer trail work day in November.  Stay tuned for more information about how you can make a lasting difference in your park!

Be prepared to also learn a little as you navigate your way through the park.  All of the park’s directional signage and outdoor interpretive signage (waysides) will be replaced over the course of the next year. The new directional signage, which will be mounted on stained cedar posts, will assist new and out-of-town visitors in finding their way around the park.  Seventeen new waysides will replace the outdated interpretive signage along the Totem Trail and in front of the Russian Bishop’s House.  The signs, which are fully accessible, will cover the Battle of 1804, the totem poles, Russian-American history and the ecology of the temperate rain forest.

About the National Park Service. More than 20,000 National Park Service employees care for America’s 401 national parks and work with communities across the nation to help preserve local history and create close-to-home recreational opportunities. Learn more at or visit our Facebook page:!/SitkaNationalHistoricalPark.


Scenes from the community walk, dedication ceremony and reception for the Sitka Sea Walk

MayorMimMcConnellSenBertStedmanRibbonIsCutOn Friday, Oct. 18, Sitka celebrated the grand opening of its new Sitka Sea Walk with a community walk of the entire route from Crescent Harbor to just before the entrance to the Sitka National Historical Park, a dedication ceremony near the spur over the harbor breakwater, and a reception at the Sitka Sound Science Center.

About 25-30 people showed up for the community walk early the morning of Alaska Day, with Monique Anderson of Anderson Land Planning and City and Borough of Sitka project manager Dan Tadic leading the way. The walk featured periodic stops along the way to point out different features of the Sitka Sea Walk, with several members of the architecture, landscaping, construction and other crews providing insight.

After walking the full length of the Sitka Sea Walk (the part entering the Sitka National Historical Park will be finished by the National Park Service at a later date), the group hiked back to the area by the spur over the Crescent Harbor breakwater for a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The crowd had grown to about 50 by the time acting city manager Jay Sweeney spoke a few words and then Mayor Mim McConnell and Sen. Bert Stedman used big scissors to cut the ribbon. A reception followed at the Sitka Sound Science Center.

Here is a slideshow of images from the event.

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Shutdown over, Sitka National Historical Park to host Alaska Day activities

RussianBishopsHouseNow that the federal government shutdown is over, the Sitka National Historical Park has announced several Alaska Day events scheduled for Friday, Oct. 18, at the Russian Bishop’s House on Lincoln Street.

Here is the press release:

National Park Celebrates Alaska Day

SITKA NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK (Oct. 17, 2013) — On Friday, Oct. 18, the Sitka National Historical Park will celebrate the 146th anniversary of the transfer of Alaska from imperial Russia to the United States. To celebrate Alaska Day and Sitka’s rich history, join park rangers at the Russian Bishop’s House for special free Alaska Day festivities.


  • Russian Bishop’s House Open House, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
  • Tea Service and Russian Games, 10 a.m. to noon.
  • Restored Residence Tours and Children’s Games, 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Dedication ceremony set for Sitka Sea Walk on Alaska Day

TSitkaSeaWalkCelebrationimage copyhe Sitka Sea Walk will be dedicated on Alaska Day morning (Friday, Oct. 18), with a group walk along the full length of the walk followed by a ceremony and a reception.

Dan Tadic, the City and Borough of Sitka’s project manager, and Monique Anderson of Anderson Land Planning will lead the walking tour, which starts at 9:15 a.m. near Crescent Harbor. After a walk of the full project, which ends just short of the entrance to the Sitka National Historical Park, Dan and Monique will lead the group back to the area at the start of the breakwater spur for the dedication ceremony, which starts at 10 a.m.

The dedication ceremony will feature speeches by Sen. Bert Stedman and Mayor Mim McConnell, who will cut the ribbon together. A reception will follow at from 10:15-11 a.m. at the Sitka Sound Science Center. The walking tour, dedication ceremony and reception all are open to the public. For more information, contact Lynne Brandon at 747-1852.

The Sitka Sea Walk construction began in April, after the Sitka Assembly in March awarded a $1.22 million construction contract to CBC Construction of Sitka. The Sitka Sea Walk is a partnership of the City and Borough of Sitka, the Sitka Sound Science Center, the Southeast Alaska Land Trust and Sitka National Historical Park. It was built using cruise ship tax funds. A slideshow of scenes from the Sitka Sea Walk (including a few photos from the Sitka Sound Science Center) is posted below.

• Dedication ceremony program for the Sitka Sea Walk

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SAIL Senior Hiking Club sets October hike for the morning of Wednesday, Oct. 16

Senior Hiking Club Oct 2013

The Sitka office of Southeast Alaska Independent Living Inc. (SAIL) has announced its next Senior Hiking Club hike will be from 9:15-11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 16. Seniors should meet at the Swan Lake Senior Center for transportation to the trailhead. Normally the group picks the trail on the day of the hike, but this month the hike will be on Thimbleberry Trail and local guide Bob Purvis will be group leader.

SAIL offers Senior Hiking Club events for those age 60 or older once a month, usually on the second or third Wednesday. There is a $5 fee, but nobody will be turned away because of finances. The hikes are open to people of all abilities and fitness levels. To learn more about the Senior Hiking Club, check out our January post introducing the club.

To learn more about the Senior Hiking Club, senior and adaptive kayaking trips, senior cycling events, and and a variety of other outdoors skills and survival classes, contact SAIL ORCA (Outdoor Recreation and Community Access) program coordinator Alli Gabbert at 747-6859 or email her at

• SAIL October 2013 events calendar

Scenes from the 19th annual Running of the Boots

RaceStartsPilotBoyLooksAtGirlThe 19th annual Running of the Boots costumed fun run fundraiser for the Sitka Local Foods Network took place on Saturday, Sept. 28, as part of the End-Of-Season Celebration.

This year the race had a new course, starting in front of St. Michael the Archangel Russian Orthodox Cathedral and heading out Lincoln Street before looping onto Harbor Drive near City Hall and finishing on Maksoutov Street. There also were prizes for costumes, a table with late-season produce from the St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm communal garden, a band, and more.

A slideshow of scenes from the race follows below:

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