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Mushers working to preserve trails

Posted: Monday, September 18, 2006

WILLOW - A trail plan recently adopted by the Willow Area Community Organization is setting the stage for what many Willow residents hope will be the preservation of a way of life in Alaska.

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The town of Willow, just outside the ever-expanding outskirts of development in the Mat-Su Valley, often is referred to as the mushing capital of the state. Many kennels and renowned Iditarod dog mushers reside in the area, along with a multi-use trail system many enthusiasts want to see saved _ enthusiasts like Steve Charles, a retired music teacher and recreational musher with a full beard to match the Alaska look.

Charles is the chairman of the WACO Trails Committee, a special standing committee. Since 1996, he has worked to document and obtain easements for local trails in Willow in an effort to assure their continued existence.

"We're trying to be proactive instead of reactive," Charles said.

On a recent Friday afternoon, Charles stood on a muddy backroad, where a part of the Iditarod Trail passes through, pointing out the trailhead of what is known as the West Gateway Trail. That trail is one of three WACO is working on, and has already obtained - with help from the Mat-Su Borough - legal easements, according to WACO documents.

With the easement, the trails receive grooming and maintenance, along with trailhead kiosks with safety and educational information. The trail also is included in the Mat-Su Trails Plan as "regionally significant," according to organization documents.

Two more trails, which are still multi-use but mainly for dog sledders, according to Charles, are the Haessler-Norris Trail System and the Emil Stancec Trail System.

Those systems, lacking legal easements, have been documented, but are threatened by development and logging - something Charles hopes can be averted by continued work and lobbying for easements and protection of the trails.



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