In Anchorage, Alaska, there’s no shortage of opportunities to be outside. Paved bike/multiuse trails cover 135 miles, and the 495,000-acre Chugach State Park serves as a reminder that the wilderness is (in some cases, literally) right out the back door.
The municipality of Anchorage counts 190 parks covering 10,000 acres, which range from play structures and picnic shelters to dog parks and virtual wilderness. And yet, despite the amount of readily available parkland, a void existed.
The growing soccer leagues played on low-quality fields (uneven, swampy, or in some cases, predominately gravel) scattered throughout the city, making tournament play a logistical nightmare for parents of several soccer players in one family.
The solution came about from a local landscape architect and planner, Dwayne Adams, FASLA, who was in the right place at the right time. As an initiative to turn 10 acres of the 4,000-acre Far North Bicentennial Park (a mostly natural park) into four ball fields for Little League was hotly debated during an Anchorage Assembly meeting, Adams realized that if 10 acres could cause this much controversy, the need for 22 soccer fields (totaling approximately 43 acres, not including parking and additional infrastructure) would be even more difficult to address.
Offering A Solution
Adams remembered an idea that he had had after a weekend of shuttling his daughter across town from game to game, longing for the tournament play in the “Lower 48,” where fields are generally located in a single complex. Instead of claiming undeveloped parkland for soccer fields, what if an existing multiuse park was developed to include additional recreational opportunities, including soccer fields?
Kincaid Park, approximately 1,500 acres and used predominately for cross-country skiing in the winter and cross-country running in the summer, was owned by the U.S. Army during the Cold War, and was used as a Nike-Hercules missile site. In 1980, it was transferred to the municipality by the Federal Land Surplus Act.
Existing bunkers have since been repurposed for ski waxing, circuit training, equipment storage, or simply left vacant.
Adams’ idea added eight new soccer fields, almost entirely within the footprint of the missile site, which had already been cleared and was mostly level. After sketching out his concept, he threw the papers in the trunk of his car to show his co-workers, but forgot about it until the evening of the assembly meeting.
Also attending the meeting was Boyd Morgenthaler, president of the Anchorage District Soccer Federation. After the meeting, Adams showed him his drawing, and asked if Morgenthaler thought it had legs.
Morgenthaler thought, “Terrific idea. Absolutely fantastic. I just about did cartwheels when he showed it to me.”
He immediately encouraged Adams to pursue it. Adams knew that in order to make the project happen, he needed the support of the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage (NSAA). When he presented the idea to NSAA, Dick Mize, a 1964 Olympic biathlete, and Jim Burkholder, a local competitive skier and strong ski-trail advocate, both of whom had been building trails at Kincaid since the 1970s, saw an opportunity.
The proposed development of new fields was in accordance with the 1983 Kincaid Park Master Plan, but would need irrigation to maintain a quality playing surface. However, the outdoor soccer season in Anchorage is short-lived due to long, snowy winters, meaning the fields would only need water during the summer.
The rest of the year, water could be used for snowmaking for some of the trails, a longtime goal of the organization. The partnership between soccer and skiing was ideal, says Mize, because “it enabled us to have a dual use of purpose for drilling wells.”
With the support of NSAA and the Anchorage District Soccer Federation, the nonprofit Kincaid Project Group (KPG) was formed to “create world-class, year-round recreational opportunities at Kincaid Park for the benefit of Anchorage and the greater Alaskan community.”
Massive Community Effort
The first step in the process involved working with the community–including the competitive ski community–to develop a master plan. Adams remembers looking around the room in one meeting and counting more than a dozen Olympic athletes, providing direction that would match the dreams that many had created through competition on Olympic and World Cup venues throughout the world.
Through this initiative, KPG developed a five-phase plan to encompass $11 million of improvements:
Phase I–Biathlon range improvements
Phase II–Irrigation/snowmaking to serve sports-field and winter-trail needs
Phase III–Grading for eight soccer fields and a trail to serve summer ski/biathlete training
Phase IV–Finishing fields with seeding/turf
Phase V–Paving of a 5-kilometer ski trail for summer dry-land training and an artificial-turf stadium.
KPG proposed a joint public and private project, funded by federal, state, municipal, corporate, and private sources, and set out to raise the money. One-million dollars of the project was immediately funded by ConocoPhillips–an energy corporation–while a fundraising campaign generated $3.5 million from the state.
The project was also awarded a Housing and Urban Development Community Development Block Grant.
Countless community members and local companies donated money and time to the project.
“It never would have happened without massive community effort,” says Morgenthaler. “People contributed because they saw it was such a good idea.”
The improvements kicked off with the relocation of the biathlon range. The old range was exposed to the wind, had bad sun angles, and was not connected to the existing trail system. The new location is protected from winds, is oriented so the sun is to the back of shooters, has better access to parking, and easily connects to the trail system.
It also features the state-of-the-art HoRa target system, which is used in World Cup and Olympic competition. Mize considers it “one of the nicest biathlon ranges in the country.”
KPG plans to add a paved 2.3-kilometer trail located within the existing main Kincaid Chalet development area; .5 kilometer of this trail currently exists within the biathlon range area. A second trail would be approximately 5 kilometers.
Paved trails will allow athletes to train during the summer on roller skis, and will be particularly suited for use by disabled athletes training for summer and winter Special Olympics.
“World-class facilities are one of the most important parts of developing future Olympians and supporting our current Olympians. The Kincaid project is an essential building block in creating Alaskan champions,” says Lars Flora, a 2002 and 2006 Olympic cross-country skier.
Mize agrees, and says that “the trails are perfect for the beginner of all ages to the Olympic athlete. The Kincaid trails are known worldwide, and were the first to be approved by the International Ski Federation for National, International, and World Cup competition.”
Still to be completed is the long-awaited snowmaking system. The construction for infrastructure is complete, and the inaugural snowmaking will be in May 2012. As the paved trails are developed, snowmaking will be in place for the other athletes as well.
Setting Sites On Soccer
Seven natural-grass soccer fields were completed in the summer of 2010, and a new artificial-turf field and stadium, christened the “ConocoPhillips Soccer Stadium,” which will hold 2000+ people, will be completed during the summer of 2012. The stadium will be used not only during summer soccer, but also during the high-school soccer season in the summer.
Because the field development displaced several holes on the existing disc-golf course, a more scenic and topographically challenging course was completed in summer of 2008. Adams considers it “one of the best disc-golf courses in the nation, with spectacular views and great long fairways to play down.”
In addition to recreational opportunities, the completed projects also offer revenue opportunities to the city. According to a July 2006 estimate by the Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau, the economic benefits Anchorage could expect when hosting the State Cup soccer tournament would be approximately $470,000, and a 4,000+ participation, seven-day soccer or ski event would generate approximately $7.4 million. A World Cup or Junior Olympic ski event would generate approximately $1 million.
Now that most of the KPG projects are complete, Mize says that he sees a “tremendous increase in usage, which was the goal of providing this type of recreation opportunity to the community.”
In addition to soccer, running, disc golf, biking, skiing, and the biathlon, people visit the park for archery, orienteering, picnics, weddings, history lessons, wildlife viewing, sledding, and snowshoeing.
In a far-off corner, there’s a motocross course, and efforts are in the works to develop single tracks for mountain biking.
Despite the changes and the increasing number of park users, Kincaid is as beautiful and natural as ever, offering even more opportunities to get outside and enjoy Alaska.
As Morgenthaler says, it was “an absolute win for everyone.”
And Adams? You’ll find him on the trails.
Gretchen Wieman Fauske lives, works, and plays in Anchorage, Alaska. She grew up skiing and running in Kincaid Park, and playing soccer on subpar fields throughout Anchorage. She was married at the Kincaid Park Chalet.