Thank you to everyone who completed our trail user survey this spring. You gave our Board of Directors a lot to discuss. The survey provides important information about our users, what you value about the trails, areas we could do better and what you’d like to see in the years ahead. We are factoring your responses into our current operations, programming, priorities and areas of growth in the future.
In reviewing survey results, several themes emerged:
We’re with you — we would love to do ALL THE THINGS!!! As a nonprofit organization, Tsalteshi must seek grants and raise our own funds for any developments we pursue. And we have to balance long-term sustainability with desired improvements. The last thing we want is to spend too much on new projects and not have enough operating capital to take care of what we already have. That means one project at a time. Your input helps our board prioritize future projects.
Lighting: A few people weren’t in favor of more lights but the vast majority of survey respondents want better visibility in winter evenings. Lighting the Wolverine and Slikok parking lots and adding trail lights to connect the upper trails with Wolverine are priorities. We also got requests to turn on trail lights in the morning for skiing before work. After much discussion, we’re holding off on that one for now. Our electric bill for running those lights is substantial and we’d need to see an uptick in membership revenue to pay for it. Our maintenance crew also regularly grooms early in the morning. It’s safer for them to work with fewer people out and the snow sets up better if it’s left alone for a few hours.
Slikok parking lot: We’re seeking grant support to gravel the Slikok lot. We hear you — those spring potholes are going to eat a Prius!
Bike skills park: We got a fair number of comments wanting additional biking infrastructure. Our board is currently considering the feasibility of building a skills park that could include a pump track and jump-line trails.
Restrooms: Lots of requests for permanent outhouses, both at Skyview and Slikok. This is a significant expense and would take some coordination with our leases and neighbors. We definitely recognize the need but we’re going to have to make do with Port-A-Potties for the time being.
PistenBully: Our new maintenance building will include an oversized garage door that can accommodate a PistenBully. (If you build it, it will come?) Realistically, these machines can cost over $100,000 to purchase and take a substantial amount of money to operate and maintain. And they aren’t a panacea for grooming — they aren’t effective in some snow conditions and trail designs. We’ll put a pin in this one for the moment, but it’s on our radar.
Skyview Clubhouse: Ah, the dream. We share it. We’d also love a warm, dry building for staging events, waxing, getting changed, stashing a water bottle and snack so you don’t break a tooth on a frozen Clif bar. This would be the biggest project ever undertaken at Tsalteshi. We’re not there yet but our board has it on our strategic plan.
We’re thrilled so many of you ranked trail maintenance as excellent (56%) or good (35.2%). Our one paid maintenance manager and crew of volunteer groomers work so incredibly hard to keep the trails in great shape. But we hear you that you’d like to see improvements:
Frequency: Our goal is to roll all trails at least once within 24 hours of a snowfall. Last year put us to the test! We spent almost 500 hours grooming and removing downed trees last winter. Significant repeated snow dumps and tree falls every time you turn around had our groomers running ragged, and particularly left the edges of trails soft. Nevertheless, we’re committed to keeping up grooming frequency and tree clearing again this year.
Classic grooming: We’re thinking about ways to improve classic skiing this winter. We know not everyone skates and we want our classic folks to feel like we’re rolling out the white carpet for them, too!
Summer maintenance: Lots of requests for more summer mowing. Our maintenance folks spent an unprecedented amount of time clearing downed trees this summer but we squeezed in extra mowing, as well. We’ll keep it up next year.
Woof! This was the single most frequent comment of the entire survey. It’s clear we’re seeing an increase in negative dog interactions on the trails. What’s not clear is how to handle it. We’ve discussed requiring leashes or even banning dogs altogether but that just doesn’t seem feasible. For one thing, we have no way of enforcing either policy. For another, we know the vast majority of Tsalteshi dog owners are careful to not let their dogs cause problems, and keeping them from using the trials is a disservice to the community. But we absolutely do not want dangerous conditions on the trails. We’re going to continue to beat the drum for education — dogs must be under control at all times at Tsalteshi, either on a leash or immediately responsive to voice commands. Please help us create a culture where that expectation is a given. Dog owners, check out the resources offered by Crystal Locke, with The Well Mannered Canine organization. Lots of great tips for training dogs to do well on trails! And we can all remind dog owners of the rules if you see a pup that is getting out of hand (remind, don’t confront — we don’t want to start having aggressive people problems on top of dog problems). Let us know if you witness dangerous dog behavior and we’ll address it as best we can. And be prepared to see lots of dogs if you recreate at Slikok in the winter. The rest of the trail system is off-limits to dogs all ski season, so there will inevitably be more dogs at Slikok that time of year. If that’s unpalatable, head over to the Skyview or Wolverine Trailheads, or hop across the highway to the Refuge ski trails around Headquarters Lake, which are off-limits to dogs. Or try the multi-use trail along Ski Hill Road, where dogs must be on a leash.
Ski waxing and bike maintenance workshops topped the request list. We’ll work on putting those together this year. There was also a lot of interest in drop-in hikes, bike rides and skis. We tried drop-in hikes this summer and are working on skis this winter. But here’s where you come in: Our bike race organizer announced this is the last summer for cyclocross due to poor attendance. We’ve seen a downward trend in participation at running and skiing events, as well. If you want activities at Tsalteshi, please participate! Events are run by volunteers and it’s too much time and effort to continue if hardly anyone shows up. If you’re interested in helping with events, please let us know! A handful of very dedicated volunteers do a ton of work hosting events. We’d love to spread the workload.
Tsalteshi has been facing an increasing operational budget shortfall. Costs have increased across the board — grooming, equipment maintenance, utilities, supplies, insurance, staffing. And we’ve expanded services that come with additional costs — extra Port-A-Potties, more frequent grooming, more frequent parking lot maintenance. Nothing seems to get cheaper these days.
Membership: It’s with reluctance but resolve that our board decided to increase membership rates this year. Membership rates haven’t gone up in over a decade and we believe our trail members see enough value in the trails to be willing to support us a little extra going forward. We also recognize that some trail users are occasional, while others are on the trails regularly all year round. Starting Nov. 1, membership rates are as follows:
Individual Basic $50
Individual Active $75
Individual Year-Round $100
Family (up to 5) Basic $150
Family (up to 5) Active $200
Family (up to 5) Year-Round $250
If you’d like to renew your membership at current rates, do so by Oct. 31!
Ultimately, we need to convert all our new trail users to supporting trail members. It’s a challenge educating new users that Tsalteshi is a nonprofit organization and not part of a municipal parks and rec department. (Though we greatly appreciate all the help we get from the City of Soldotna!) Trailhead signage only goes so far. Please chat with fellow trail users and let them know we all need to be in this together.
We’re also thinking about fundraisers to boost our budget a bit. We’ll have some auctions at our annual meeting this December and are rolling out more events this winter.
Thank you all for supporting the trails!
Why yes, we can do that!
Some of the requests from our survey are already happening or are newly instituted at the trails:
- Winter fat-tire event: Check out the Tour of Tsalteshi fat-bike event in February!
- Adult ski lessons: Are happening!!!! But we need help! It’ll take a lot of volunteers to get this program going. Please let us know if you can help with learn-to-ski events!
- Trash cans and dog waste bags: Done! We’ve now got trash cans and dog waste bags at Skyview, Slikok and Wolverine. Please do your part — if you use the dog waste bags, please make sure they make it to the trash can. It does more harm than good to bag poop if the bags are left on the trails.
- Signage: In the works. We’re applying for permission to add highway signage identifying the Slikok trailhead and we’ve got an ongoing sign survey to find and replace dilapidated signage throughout the trails. There’s also an app for that — Tsalteshi is on Trailforks, which is great for navigating while out on the trails.
- E-bikes: Level one (pedal-assist) e-bikes are allowed on the trails. (Note: Class 1 ONLY are allowed, not Class 2 or 3.)
- Grooming information: Join us on Nordic Pulse! See trail conditions and grooming in real time!
- We’ll have a weather station on the new maintenance building so you can check conditions before waxing.
Do you want to be involved in these decisions? Consider running for the TTA Board of Directors. We’ll be opening the board application window soon. Elections are in December. Join us and help shape the future of TTA!
Do you have feedback on our survey feedback? Please let us know. All comments will be shared with our Board of Directors.