Sitka National Historical Park switches to summer hours on Tuesday, May 8

Beginning Tuesday, May 8, Sitka National Historical Park will transition to its summer hours of operation. This year the Visitor Center and the Russian Bishop’s House will have the same hours of operation which will be open daily from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Ranger-led interpretive programs will be held daily at the Visitor Center, with topics focusing on the stories and legends of the totem poles, the Battle of 1804, sea otter ecology and other aspects of the park’s natural and cultural history. The park’s 12-minute film will be played on request. Master artisans will be demonstrating in the art studios on days when cruise ships are in town.

The Russian Bishop’s House Ranger-led programs of the upstairs residence will be offered every 30 minutes on the hour and half-hour, with the first program beginning at 8:30 a.m. and the last tour beginning at 4:00 p.m. The first floor hosts a self-guided museum and video that are available anytime during open hours.

Park trails are now open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Cyclists are reminded that bicycles must be walked on park trails. A bicycle rack is provided at the visitor center for those wishing to explore the rest of the park on foot. Visitors are also welcome to walk dogs on park trails, but must keep their pets on a leash at all times and dispose of pet waste properly. Park staff appreciate your cooperation with these important park policies.

For additional information, visit the park’s webpage at http://www.nps.gov/sitk or call the Visitor Center at (907) 747-0110.

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About the National Park Service. More than 20,000 National Park Service employees care for America’s 417 national parks and work with communities across the nation to help preserve local history and create close-to-home recreational opportunities. Learn more about Sitka National Historical Park at www.nps.gov/sitk or visit the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/SitkaNationalHistoricalPark.

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Sitka’s Charles Bingham selected to participate in Walking College Fellowship program

America Walks, a national advocacy organization working to empower communities to create safe, accessible, and enjoyable places to walk, announced today that Charles Bingham of Walk Sitka has been awarded a Walking College Fellowship as part of the 2018 program.

The Fellowship will enable Bingham and other advocates from around the country to participate in a five-month training program designed to strengthen local efforts to make communities more walkable and livable.

“We are delighted to welcome Charles Bingham as a member of the Walking College,” said Emilie Bahr, Walking College Manager with America Walks, “It was a very competitive application process and he will be a great addition to the 2018 class. We look forward to developing his skills and are excited to see his work grow.”

Bingham will complete a six-module distance-education training program this summer, followed by an independent study project in Sitka, and then attend Walk/Bike/Places in New Orleans in the fall. He is the first Alaskan selected to the Walking College Fellowship.

“One of the goals of the first Sitka Health Summit (2007) was to become a walk and bicycle friendly community,” said Bingham, a former newspaper journalist who now works as a freelance media/public relations and grant-writing specialist. “In 2008, Sitka became Alaska’s first official Bicycle Friendly Community (Bronze level), but at the time there wasn’t a similar national program for walking. We repeated our Bronze level Bicycle Friendly Community designation in 2012, and moved up to the Silver level in 2016. In 2013, we became Alaska’s first official Walk Friendly Community with a Bronze level designation, and we renewed our Bronze level designation in 2017. Hopefully the knowledge I gain from being a Walking College Fellow will help Sitka upgrade to the Silver or Gold level in the Walk Friendly Community program. I also think I’ll be able to apply the knowledge to my cycling advocacy work.”

Bingham wrote Sitka’s two renewal Bicycle Friendly Community applications (he helped on the first) and also wrote Sitka’s two Walk Friendly Communities applications. In addition to coordinating the Walk Sitka program that came out of the Sitka Health Summit, he also is part of the Sitka Bicycle Friendly Community Coalition.  He builds the Walk Sitka and Sitka Cycling websites (https://walksitka.wordpress.com and http://sitkacycling.wordpress.com) and administrates the corresponding Facebook pages for each (https://www.facebook.com/WalkSitka/ and https://www.facebook.com/SitkaCycling/). Bingham moderates the Alaska Bicycling and Walking Advocacy Group on Facebook, too.

The Walking College curriculum has been designed to expand the capacity of local advocates to be effective community change agents. Topics include the science behind the benefits of walking, evaluation of built environments, as well as communication skills and building relationships with stakeholders and decision makers. Fellows work with other members of their class and a set of experienced mentors to develop the knowledge and skills needed to create community change. At the conclusion of the Walking College, Fellows will develop a Walking Action Plan for implementation using their new skills.

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About America Walks: America Walks, a nonprofit national organization, is leading the way in empowering communities to create safe, accessible, and enjoyable walking conditions for all. We provide a voice for walking and walkable communities with federal agencies, provide strategy support, training and technical assistance to statewide, regional, and local organizations, and serve as the convener of the national Every Body Walk! Collaborative. Together, America Walks and the Every Body Walk! Collaborative boast 700 allied organizations who across the nation are working to increase walking and support walkable communities for all members. More at http://www.americawalks.org.

About Walk Sitka: Walk Sitka originated from the Sitka Health Summit, when Sitka residents chose making Sitka a more walkable community as one of its first community wellness projects. In 2013, Sitka became the first Alaska city to earn a Bronze level or higher designation from the Walkable Friendly Communities program. In 2017, Sitka renewed its Bronze level designation. Walk Sitka works with a variety of community partners to promote walking events, education, safety upgrades, and more. More at https://walksitka.wordpress.com.

Sitka Trail Works releases weekend guided hike schedule for the 2018 spring and summer

Sitka Trail Works will kick off its 2018 summer series of weekend hikes on Saturday, May 5, with a moderate to strenuous bike ride of up to 10 miles along the Cross Trail. Meet at 9:30 a.m. at the Indian River Trailhead (near the corner of Indian River Road and Yaw Drive) to join the ride.

That will be followed on Sunday, May 13, by a short hike on the Ben Grussendorf Forest and Muskeg Estuary Trail. Meet at 1:30 p.m. at the gravel boat launch at Starrigavan State Park to join the hike. Note, the calendar posted below has been updated to change the date of the Fort Rousseau kayak trip.

The series of weekend hikes are led by various members of Sitka Trail Works, and there also are occasional geocaching events, bike rides and kayak trips on the schedule. Most of the hikes near town are free (donations are accepted), but some of the hikes require a boat trip and those have fees. The schedule runs through the end of August.

On National Trails Day (Saturday, June 2), Sitka Trail Works and other groups will do repair work to trails TBA. Tools will be available, but you should bring gloves, pruners and toppers, if you have them.

In other news, Sitka Trail Works recently received funding for Phase 6 of the Cross Trail, and construction is expected to start in FY 2019. But in order to claim the $1.8 million to finish the last 2.6 miles of the Cross Trail, Sitka Trail Works needs to raise $20,000 in matching funds. In addition, Sitka Trail Works plans a major maintenance project on the Indian River Trail during the 2018 summer, in partnership with the USDA Forest Service and Juneau Trail Mix.

Don’t forget to check the Sitka Trail Works website for current trail condition reports.

• Spring 2018 Sitka Trail Works newsletter

• Sitka Trail Works 2018 hike schedule (updated May 1)

Sitka National Historical Park temporarily closes trail during maintenance building construction

Construction of a replacement on-site maintenance building has begun at Sitka National Historical Park, just northeast of the visitor center upper parking lot. During construction, the short walking trail from the northeast side of the upper parking lot connecting to the Riverview Trail will be closed to visitors. All other trails will be unaffected and remain open to visitors.

Visitors can expect to see construction equipment and contractors working from 7 a.m. through 7 p.m. on Mondays through Saturdays during the construction period, which should end about May 25. These closures will be in the upper parking lot and adjacent to the Riverview Trail. Please use caution when traveling near this area.

Any questions or concerns should be directed to Jessica Perkins, at 747-0153 or jessica_perkins@nps.gov.

City of Sitka to host public meetings to discuss improvements on Lincoln Street

The City and Borough of Sitka Public Works Department will host two public meetings — at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 31, at Harrigan Centennial Hall — to discuss the Lincoln Street Improvements project.

The project includes the replacement of lining of deteriorated storm drainpipes, grinding and overlay of existing pavement, upgrading of ADA (American Disability Act) ramps, replacement of limited sidewalk and installation of red concrete crosswalks. The public is encouraged to attend to see the proposed improvements and provide public input.

For more information, contact Public Works at 747-1806.

• Lincoln Street Improvements meeting handout

Sitka Trail Works completes repairs to Mosquito Cove Trail after October rain event

A deep sink hole developed along the Mosquito Cove Trail during a three-inch rainfall event in October. As you may know, Sitka Trail Works has been completing maintenance projects on the popular Mosquito Cove Trail since Alaska State Parks cut funding for a local position and office. The repair projects help keep the trails safe and in shape so they can be used for many years.

Phase II trail upgrades had just been completed by U.S. Forest Service Trail Crew in September, before the storm. The Phase II repairs were made with a $51,369 grant from the Alaska Recreational Trails Program (RTP), which allowed work to be done on the back side of the trail. The Phase II repairs featured 45 helicopter bags of rock and six loads of lumber being lifted to improve drainage and prevent washouts.

In the more recent project, Sitka Trail Works employees Jerad and Trent Bayne recently made repairs to the sink hole and also removed a fallen tree.

Alaska DOT&PF to host open house about Sawmill Creek Road biking/walking improvements project

There are power poles in the middle of the sidewalk and shrubs from the yards of area houses creeping into the sidewalk on Sawmill Creek Road across from Baranof Elementary School and the Elks Lodge. Note the pedestrian under the speed limit sign to get a scale of how tight things are when you try to get by the poles.

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities will host an open house and accept public comments for the Sawmill Creek Road resurfacing and pedestrian improvements project between the roundabout and Jeff Davis Street.

The open house takes place from 5-7 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 5, at Harrigan Centennial Hall. Public comments will close on Jan. 30, 2018, and construction is expected to start in 2019.

This meeting will only deal with Option 2 from the two options the Alaska DOT&PF presented Sitka with in May. Option 2 was passed unanimously by the Sitka Parks and Recreation Commission in June, and it passed 5-1 (with one absent) during a September meeting of the Sitka Assembly. Option 2 narrows traffic lanes, removes parking on the south side of the street (the water side), and creates new bike lanes on both sides of Sawmill Creek Road. Option 1 kept the status quo (other than to widen the traffic lanes in a coupe of spots), which did not improve the safety for bikers and walkers.

“At this meeting, only Option 2 will be presented for public comment,” said Aurah Landau, a public information officer with the Alaska DOT&PF. “It is the preferred option, and Option 1 is off the table.”

The two options were first announced at a poorly advertised open house on Monday, May 8, at Harrigan Centennial Hall (there was no mention of the meeting in the Friday, May 5, edition of the Daily Sitka Sentinel), when DOT staff from Juneau showed maps and diagrams detailing the two options. The DOT staff was supposed to give a report at the Tuesday, May 9, meeting of the Sitka Assembly, but the report was tabled to a later meeting when the Assembly shrank the meeting agenda to time-sensitive items only following the weekend shooting death of a city employee by another city employee.

“We’re just looking for public input, what people like and what people don’t like,” Colleen Ivaniszek, a designer and engineering assistant with DOT told the Daily Sitka Sentinel in an article in the Wednesday, May 10, edition.

“I just looked at the Assembly agenda for tomorrow (Tuesday, May 9) night and it looks like DOT is presenting two options for the design of Sawmill Creek from the Roundabout to Jeff Davis,” Sitka Trail Works Director Lynne Brandon wrote in a May email shared with the Sitka Bicycle Friendly Community Coalition. “It looks like they want the Assembly to choose the option. I don’t think there has been any other input from the community. This isn’t enough public process. It’s a report, so I don’t think the Assembly can make a decision at the meeting, but I think they should know that more public process is necessary and the bike-friendly option is the only way to go, not the share-road.”

The last major public meeting for this project was in December 2015 at the Sealing Cove Business Park.

This section of Sawmill Creek Road has narrow sidewalks blocked by power poles (see photo above), which prevent people in wheelchairs or using rolling walk-assist carts from being able to get by. Cyclists consider it the most dangerous section of major road in Sitka because it is the only stretch of major road without a designated bike lane or multi-use path from the ferry terminal at the end of Halibut Point Road to the industrial park at the end of Sawmill Creek Road. There also is motor vehicle parking along both sides of Sawmill Creek Road, which means cyclists have to worry about getting doored until they get past Jeff Davis Street.

“I’m really hopeful for the proposed changes to SMC Road between Baranof and Jeff Davis,” William The Giant said in a May Facebook post. “I’ve been bike commuting in Sitka for about eight years now, and this small chunk of road is easily one of the most dangerous stretches for a biker in town. It might seem like a lazy little street to a driver, but for a biker it’s a choice between being firmly in traffic, or riding along in the ‘door zone’ of all the parked vehicles. It’s a no-win situation either way, since a bike accident along this road is almost guaranteed to jam up some poor driver’s axle.

“I have a baby I’m now hauling around in a bike trailer almost daily, and I absolutely dread this section of road. Honestly, I’m really surprised we’ve been providing parking to a handful of residents at the cost of safety along a major road for so long. When I read we’d only give up parking along one side of the road to create two bike lanes it sounded like a dream come true to me. Especially, since the area is being improved one way or the other, it would be strange to ‘upgrade’ it to be a new version of the same terrible layout. I will be eternally thankful to those who have to walk across the street each morning to get to their cars to make our roads safer.”

Of the two options, Option One is closest to the unacceptable status quo. In fact, it widens the driving lanes from 12 feet to 13.5 feet (and wider lanes lead to higher road speeds, which lead to more serious injuries and fatalities). It keeps the current eight-foot parking lanes on both sides of the street, but it does relocate some power poles and makes some upgrades to the sidewalk and curb ramps. This option is not an improvement for the most dangerous stretch of road and sidewalk in Sitka.

Option Two is the safer option, as it shrinks the driving lanes from 12 feet to 11 feet, eliminates the parking lane on one side of the road, and creates five-foot bike lanes on both sides of the road. This is by far the better option of the two. You can learn more about both options in the link posted at the bottom of the article.

“I agree that Option Two is the best,” Sitka cyclist Dave Nuetzel wrote in a May email. “This removes parking on one side and adds two bike lanes. I also commented that bump-outs for crosswalks and a flashing crosswalk at Baranof Street are needed. … Option One with ‘shared’ lanes would basically be the same as it already is.  This stretch of highway is the only area in Sitka without a bike lane or wide shoulder. … Not sure how they plan to move cyclists from the multi-purpose path to the bike lane on the other side of the road. Currently no crosswalk at Jeff Davis.”

Girl Scout Troop 4140, which recently worked with the state and city to get a solar-powered flashing crosswalk sign for the Halibut Point Road-Peterson Street intersection, wants to see a similar flashing crosswalk sign on Sawmill Creek Road.

“Girl Scout Troop 4140 would like to have solar-powered crosswalk signs at SMC/Baranof Street (at the Baranof Elementary crosswalk) included in the design, but we need your help,” troop leader Retha Winger wrote in a May Facebook post encouraging people to contact DOT about the crosswalk. “DOT is currently accepting comments about their design changes and they are requesting comments from Sitkans. You can review the design changes here, http://dot.alaska.gov/sereg/projects/sitka_sawmill_rd/index.shtml. Please send comments to Chris.Schelb@alaska.gov. PLEASE EMAIL CHRIS AND LET HIM KNOW THAT WE WANT A SOLAR-POWERED CROSSWALK AT THE BARANOF ELEMENTARY SCHOOL CROSSWALK! All comments are important and appreciated. They need to hear our collective concern for the safety of our children. Thank you!”

Both options will make the intersection of DeGroff Street and Sawmill Creek Road a 90-degree turn, which will reduce car speeds as drivers leave Sawmill Creek Road for the residential DeGroff Street. Another change will move the bike path that crosses Jeff Davis Street a bit closer to the highway, so it’s easier for drivers to see the cyclists. Another plan is to improve the sidewalks by Monastery Street.

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is taking public comment on the two options for the next 30 days. You can email comments to Chris.Schelb@alaska.gov, or send them by regular mail to Sawmill Creek Road Resurfacing and Pedestrian Improvements, c/o Alaska DOT&PF, P.O. Box 112506, Juneau, Alaska, 99511-2506.

• Sawmill Creek Road Resurfacing and Pedestrian Improvements Options