Anchorage parks rank high among 6 other cities

Posted: Tuesday, December 02, 2003

ANCHORAGE - Anchorage's parks are getting high marks from consultants hired to help update the city's parks plan.

The consultants compared municipal parks here with those in six other cities: Boise, Idaho ; Boulder, Colo.; Duluth, Minn.; Portland, Ore.; Spokane, Wash.; and Vancouver, B.C.

If mountain biking is your thing, they say try Boise, Idaho, which boasts 250 miles of trails and was named No. 1 mountain biking city in the country by Bike magazine.

If it's golf, go to Duluth, Minn., they say, which has the most golf courses per capita among seven Western and Midwestern cities with reputations for having good park systems.

However, anyone who likes to hike or ride on trails, or wander through natural wooded areas, can stay right here. Anchorage matches Boise's trails and topped the rest of the cities in natural space.

The consultants compared budgets, acreage, playing fields, swimming and boating areas, recreation centers, gardens, picnic areas, play structures, skateboard and dog parks.

Anchorage stacked up well by many measures in comparison with the other cities. It tied Boise for trail miles per capita. It was second to Portland for total park acreage, with 10,050 to 10,426 in Portland, and No. 1 for the amount of natural park area, with 8,000 acres. It was also top among the seven cities for picnic shelters, campgrounds, swimming beaches and indoor swimming pools per capita.

Anchorage has more baseball fields per capita than the average, but a below average number of soccer and softball fields.

Boise has a miles-long riverside trail and greenbelt, and a few years ago approved a special tax to buy open space in the foothills above town.

"We all love Anchorage the way it is," said city planner Thede Tobish. "We just want to use their standards as a way to boost our standards."

In two areas - maintenance and support of the system by fees - Anchorage is seriously out of whack, falling far short of the other cities, the parks planners said.

The other cities all collect about 30 percent of their revenues from fees and charges. This year Anchorage collected about 11 percent, though fees are scheduled to increase next year.

"It sends up a red flag and says this is where we have to look," said John Drew, project manager for the Eppley Institute of Parks and Public Lands at Indiana University. Eppley is preparing the update with the Anchorage firm Land Design North.

The number of parks workers in Anchorage, for maintenance and other jobs, falls well below that of most of the other cities. Anchorage ranked last among the seven cities for numbers of nonmaintenance employees, with a total of 134. The average is 653.

Vancouver had the most lavishly staffed park system but near the least amount of parkland, with 3,417 acres.

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