Sitka celebrates completion of Sawmill Creek Road Upgrade Project and opening of new trail

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HIGHWAY RIBBON-CUTTING – TOP: Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities Commissioner Pat Kemp and Sitka Mayor Mim McConnell cut a ribbon to mark the completion of the Sawmill Creek Road Upgrade Project on Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014, at the Gary Paxton Industrial Park. About 80 Sitkans attended the noon ceremony which included a picnic lunch hosted by the city. In his remarks at the ceremony Kemp recalled working on Sawmill Creek Road during the summer when he was in college in the 1970s and thinking then about how it would be nice to someday improve the winding road that was susceptible to slides. Sitka Trail Works board president Brian Hanson told about the trail portion of the project and how it was an early goal of the organization. State Sen. Burt Stedman (R-Sitka) also spoke at the ribbon cutting. He told about the decades-long efforts to create the road and trail project. Gary Paxton in his remarks noted the diligent work of Stedman to secure state and federal funding. He praised the work of former city attorney T. Cole in ironing out legal agreements between stake holders; George Ishiyama, president of Alaska Pulp Corporation, who donated land used in the project; and Deborah Lyons, for her work on the project through Sitka Trail Works. Pictured are, from left, DOT Southeast Regional Director Al Clough, Paxton, Stedman, Hanson, Kemp, McConnell and Lyons. ABOVE: A group of walkers led by Roger Higley, left, and Brian Hanson use the recently opened Sawmill Creek Road Trail on Thursday, Aug. 21, to get from Whale Park to the Gary Paxton Industrial Park. Sitka Trail Works organized the walk to celebrate the completion of the final phase of the road project that included the trail. (Daily Sitka Sentinel Photos by James Poulson)

Below are four additional photo of the event taken by John Stein.

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

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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 http://www.walkfriendly.org/, 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)

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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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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Sitka Assembly issues proclamation supporting Walk Sitka efforts to make Sitka a Walk Friendly Community

Walk Sitka member Don Jones, left, receives a copy of a proclamation supporting the group's efforts to improve Sitka's walkability from Sitka Mayor Mim McConnell on Tuesday, April 9, 2013.

Walk Sitka member Don Jones, left, receives a copy of a proclamation supporting the group’s efforts to improve Sitka’s walkability from Sitka Mayor Mim McConnell on Tuesday, April 9, 2013.

On Tuesday, April 9, the Sitka Assembly issued a proclamation supporting the efforts of Walk Sitka to make Sitka a Walk Friendly Community. Later in the meeting, the Assembly directed Mayor Mim McConnell to sign the International Charter for Walking.

Walk Sitka is a group formed after the 2012 Sitka Health Summit with the goal to help Sitka recognize and improve its walking experience. The group is preparing a Walk Friendly Communities award application in the hope Sitka can become the first Alaska community to earn a Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum designation (Juneau earned an honorable mention in 2010, the first year of the program).

The Walk Friendly Communities application requires a variety of information about a community’s walkability, such as planning, education and encouragement, enforcement, engineering, and evaluation. The process allows groups to really evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their community’s walkability, and helps them develop plans to make their cities and towns more walkable. Walk Sitka expects to submit its application for a Walk Friendly Communities award during the next application cycle (May 1-June 15).

Walk Sitka members Charles Bingham, left, Eric Jordan and Don Jones show off the proclamation issued by the Sitka Assembly supporting the group's efforts to make Sitka a walk friendly community.

Walk Sitka members Charles Bingham, left, Eric Jordan and Don Jones show off the proclamation issued by the Sitka Assembly supporting the group’s efforts to make Sitka a walk friendly community.

The proclamation noted that Sitka has several factors that make it a walk friendly community. Sitka has an extensive trail system. it has a culture of walking (Sitka has four times the national average of people who commute to work by walking), it has a growing number of walking programs (such as Park Prescriptions, the Wednesday Walks In The Park, the SAIL Senior Hiking Club and others), and exciting new projects such as the Sitka Sea Walk that will be built this summer. The proclamation also noted how walking is one of the best ways for people to improve their health, and how walkable communities help improve the economy of their cities and towns.

The International Charter for Walking has been signed by individuals, groups and communities in a multitude of countries around the world. Right now, more than 4,000 signatures are on the charter, with the top five countries being the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, Australia and Germany. The charter has a variety of goals that help communities build cultures of walking, such as inclusive mobility, integrated networks, less crime, spaces for people, reducing road danger, spatial planning, supported authorities, and the promotion of walking.

• Proclamation from the Sitka Assembly supporting the work Walk Sitka is doing to make Sitka a walk friendly community

• International Charter for Walking signed by Sitka Mayor Mim McConnell