St. Peter’s By The Sea Episcopal Church to host summer Scripture Walks in the Park at Sitka National Historical Park

Rev. Julie Platson, the new priest in charge at St. Peter's By The Sea Episcopal Church, sprinkles holy water during a recent blessing service at St. Peter's Fellowship Farm. She and her church will lead a series of scripture walks this summer at Sitka National Historical Park.

Rev. Julie Platson, the rector in charge at St. Peter’s By The Sea Episcopal Church, sprinkles holy water during a Spring 2015 blessing service at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm. Julie and members of her church will lead a series of scripture walks this summer at Sitka National Historical Park.

St Peter’s By The Sea Episcopal Church invites the community to join it on Wednesday evenings for its fourth summer of Scripture Walks in the Park. The group will meet at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesdays, from June 6 through Aug. 15, at the Sitka National Historical Park Visitor’s Center.

“It was just an idea I came up with for a  summer offering. I thought it made sense to combine a casual walk with the beauty of God’s creation here in Sitka,” said Rev. Julie Platson, the rector in charge at St. Peter’s.

Also, don’t forget to get a Park Prescriptions card at the park’s visitor center to log your walks in the park, so you can have a chance to win quarterly prizes for each completed card.

For more info, please call the church at 747-3977 or email stpetersbytheseak@gmail.com.

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Sitka Sound Science Center visiting scientist to lead bird walk at Sitka National Historical Park

Ornithologist Allison Nelson, the Scientist in Residency Fellow at the Sitka Sound Science Center this summer, will lead a bird walk on the totem trails at Sitka National Historical Park on Saturday, June 9.

Participants should meet at 7:30 a.m. at the Sitka Sound Science Center’s Mill Building for coffee and bagels, with the walk taking place from 8-9 a.m. at Sitka National Historical Park. Allison has been focusing her research on the hermit thrush, a migratory songbird native to Sitka. Allison will discuss birds and her research. Families and young birders are encouraged to attend.

For more information, contact Tory O’Connell at the Sitka Sound Science Center, 747-8878, Ext. 7, or voconnell@sitkascience.org. This event is co-sponsored by the Sitka Sound Science Center, Sitka National Historical Park and Sitka Conservation Society.

KCAW-Raven Radio highlights Sitka’s renewal as a Bronze-level Walk Friendly Community

Click this link to hear an Oct. 31 story from KCAW-Raven Radio about how Sitka became a two-time Bronze-level Walk Friendly Community.

The story includes part of an interview KCAW news director Robert Woolsey did with Charles Bingham, who wrote the original Walk Friendly Community application in 2013 and the renewal application in 2017. In the interview, they discuss the 40-page application and what goes into a walkable community.

Sitka renews bronze-level designation in Walk Friendly Communities program

The City and Borough of Sitka earned a renewal of its bronze-level Walk Friendly Communities designation, joining seven other communities announced on Oct. 18 (Alaska Day) that they earned their first or renewed their previous designations. In 2013, Sitka became the first and so far only town in Alaska to earn a bronze-level or higher designation from the Walk Friendly Communities program, coordinated by the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC) in Chapel Hill, N.C. (Juneau has honorable mention status).

“I am proud of the hard work city staff has done to improve the lives of Sitkans with the limited funding we have available,” Sitka Mayor Matt Hunter said. “Thank you to the dedicated group of citizens who spend their time advocating for safer streets and who seek to recognize the city’s efforts.”

Becoming a Walk Friendly Community was a community wellness project of the 2008 and 2012 Sitka Health Summits (the 2008 project was before there was a national Walk Friendly Communities program). In 2008, Sitka residents wanted the community to be friendlier to people walking or riding bikes (Sitka earned its first Bicycle Friendly Community designation that year), and in 2012 they wanted to add the WFC designation to the BFC award. Sitka is the only community in Alaska with both Walk Friendly Communities (bronze in 2013 and 2017) and Bicycle Friendly Community  (bronze in 2008 and 2012, silver in 2016) designations.

The WFC award came about when 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 2017 renewal 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.

“We hoped we might upgrade to the silver level this time, but we’re still the only official Walk Friendly Communities award-winner in Alaska,” said Charles Bingham, who helped coordinate the Walk Sitka group and wrote the WFC applications in 2013 and 2017. “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.”

The eight new or renewing Walk Friendly Communities for Fall 2017 were Washington, D.C., at the gold level; Columbus, Ohio; Long Beach, Calif.; and Redwood City, Calif.; at the silver level; and Essex Junction, Vt.; Gainesville, Fla.; Northampton, Mass.; and Sitka; at the bronze level. They bring the nation’s total to 67 awardees in the program at four levels — bronze, silver, gold, and platinum (Seattle and New York City are the lone platinum WFCs). 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 2022, although it can apply earlier if it thinks it’s ready to upgrade a level.

“Communities nationwide are implementing some very impressive plans and projects to create welcoming pedestrian environments,” said Dan Gelinne, WFC program manager. “All cities and towns face challenges related to pedestrian safety and walkability, but these Walk Friendly Communities are well-positioned to address these concerns and proactively improve their streets. We hope their innovative projects and programs can serve as models to other communities.”

The 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.

Some of the major changes since Sitka’s 2013 application included the replacement of the Indian River Pedestrian Bridge in Sitka National Historical Park, the multi-purpose path from Whale Park to the end of Sawmill Creek Road, funding commitments for two extensions to the Sitka Sea Walk and to finish the Cross Trail, a new multi-purpose path on Edgecumbe Drive, proposed bike-walk improvements to Sawmill Creek Road from the roundabout to Jeff Davis Street, new walking encouragement programs, and more.

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

“Based on our review, we are re-designating Sitka as a Bronze-level Walk Friendly Community. Among the many programs and initiatives you shared with us, we were particularly impressed with:

  • The consistently high walking mode share and (low) pedestrian crash rate.
  • The level of planning effort and community support for Sitka’s trail system.
  • Slow speed limits through downtown and in school zones, paired with pedestrian countdown signals at Sitka’s two main intersections.
  • The variety and frequency of walking programs.”

The Walk Friendly Communities program was launched in October 2010. 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 U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). It is funded by FedEx Corp.

The next WFC application deadline is Dec. 15, with the results announced in April 2018. 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, 2017 Walk Friendly Communities Report Card and Feedback

• National press release for October 2017 Walk Friendly Communities

• 2017 Walk Friendly Communities renewal application for Sitka, Alaska

• 2013 Walk Friendly Communities application for Sitka, Alaska

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

Sitka National Historical Park to host quarterly Park Prescriptions prize drawing on Sept. 30

The next quarterly Park Prescriptions Program drawing will be held at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 30, at the Sitka National Historical Park visitor center.

Participants are reminded to submit their punch cards to a ranger at Sitka National Historical Park’s visitor center by 3 p.m. on Frida,y Sept. 29, to be eligible for the drawing. This drawing includes three cash prizes provided by Sitka Community Hospital Foundation. The prizes will be awarded as checks, and will either be mailed to the winners, or will be available for pick up at the Sitka Community Hospital.

The Park Prescriptions Program promotes health and wellness by encouraging Sitkans to recreate within their national park. Park Prescriptions was a Sitka Health Summit project that started as a partnership between the park and local medical providers, who prescribed hikes around the park to their patients. Now people can self-prescribe the hikes, and turn in their completed punch cards to win prizes. Quarterly drawings are held by the Sitka Community Hospital Foundation. Eligible participants who have completed their punch card are eligible to win cash prizes.

To participate, stop by the park’s visitor center, or the Sitka Community Hospital to pick up a punch card or contact Ryan Carpenter at 747-0121 or at ryan_p_carpenter@nps.gov for more information.

If you have questions, please call the park’s visitor center at 747-0110.​

New Indian River pedestrian bridge in Sitka National Historical Park opens for use

OPENED BRIDGESitka National Historical Park Superintendent David Elkowitz and contractor Jeremy Twaddle of Island Enterprises Inc. cut a ceremonial ribbon to officially open the Indian River foot bridge Friday morning, July 28, 2017. The new bridge, which is two feet wider than the old one, was completed on schedule, just ahead of pink salmon spawning. Pictured on the bridge are, from left, Ryan Carpenter, Elkowitz, Brinnen Carter, Twaddle and Mike Trainor. (Daily Sitka Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Sitka National Historical Park to open new Indian River pedestrian bridge on Friday, July 28

The new cross-park pedestrian bridge over Indian River in Sitka National Historical Park will officially open for park visitors at 10 a.m. on Friday, July 28.

An informal ribbon-cutting ceremony hosted by park superintendent David Elkowitz will dedicate the new bridge. “We heartily invite all of our park users, including the Park Prescriptions participants and daily walkers, to join us in crossing the river for the first time using this latest park infrastructure improvement,” Elkowitz said.

The removal and replacement of an almost half-century-old bridge was necessary to ensure park visitors have safe passage through the park. The new bridge is wider to allow for enhanced salmon and other wildlife viewing for decades to come. As before, bicyclists are reminded to walk their bikes through park trails, including over the bridge.

Speaking about the project, which began in early May, Sitka National Historical Park Chief of Maintenance Mike Trainor said, “Our goal was to have this project completed by mid-July to protect the late summer salmon run, which is one of the park’s most important natural resource missions. I’m happy to report the first pink salmon are just beginning to show up at the mouth of the river. We also wanted to ensure a minimum inconvenience to park visitors and especially those who use the cross-park trail to get to and from downtown Sitka. We thank everyone for their patience.”

The cross-trail linking the Park’s east and west sections across the footbridge has been a traditional pedestrian commuter route, and park visitor walk, for decades.

The new bridge was designed after considerable public input, and retains the character of the old bridge. For more information about this work, please contact Angie Richman at 747-0132 or Mike Trainor at 747-0150.