JULY 1, 2019 —You have family friends coming to town, and you’re looking for an available public use cabin to rent.
You want to head to Kachemak Bay near Homer, and wonder which trails are open right now and which are closed to flooding.
Speaking of those trails, you could really use a map that you can view online, and not need to print.
All that, and more, are now available on the newly-updated Alaska State Parks website.
Making it easier to find what you need
The Alaska Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation launched its updated website this spring and will continue to add new features this summer, said Wendy Sailors, who oversees the division’s public outreach. Alaska State Park users can visit the site to find public use cabins, trail updates and general park information.
Sailors said the previous website version had too many pages, too many words, and not enough cues for users to locate important information quickly. The division’s staff have been working hard to streamline webpages by adding drop-down menus, improving photographs and other visual elements, and tightening up wording to help people navigate the site.
“When you go to a page, it’s really easy to see everything without scrolling,” Sailors said.
Sailors said the division also updated the website to try to reach those who aren’t typical visitors to Alaska’s state parks. Staff wanted to offer a variety of ideas and tips to safely visit and explore the parks.
“What I hope they find is direction for a fun adventure,” said Sailors.
They are sharing those ideas through special events, too, as part of the new Families to Parks program. This year, the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation named local travel journalist and outdoor advocate Erin Kirkland, publisher of AKontheGO.com, as its first Alaska State Parks ambassador. The division and Kirkland are planning and promoting parks at events around Southcentral Alaska. The next one is planned for Saturday, Aug. 31. It’s called “Fall Family Adventure Day” at Bird Creek Campground south of Anchorage. Families will learn skills for setting up camp, including meal preparation, preparing a campfire, and learning ways to enjoy state parks during the fall season.
Booking a public use cabin or finding an open trail
One of the most popular features of the new website is the menu directing people to information about public use cabins in state parks. Alaska State Parks offers more than 80 recreational cabins for public use. Sailors shared the reminder to start planning early, booking cabins up to seven months in advance.
“Everybody wants to go camping,” Sailors said. “Everybody wants to stay in public use cabins.”
When people click on the desired cabin online, they’re able to print a handout that organizes key information: Is there a nearby toilet? Hiking trails? What should visitors bring that the cabin doesn’t have?
Another important aspect of the new site is its comprehensive trail status updates. The division regularly collects updates for open or closed trails due to wildlife or environmental factors, like flooding. Visitors can find trail maps and guides online and even view them in 3D.
Sailors and her division are also looking at adding elements to a new, free app Alaskans can use on their phones and mobile devices. It’s called OuterSpatial, and it currently lists parks, trails, and cabin information online for the Mat-Su Borough. Sailors said the app will soon include information about the rest of the state park units, once funding is available.
This app is particularly useful because it is GPS-based and can be accessed with or without Wi-Fi. People also will be able to use the app to send instant feedback and comments about the current condition of state park trails in real time.
“We don’t have enough staff to hit all the trails every single year,” Sailors said. “We need that feedback from everybody.”
Photographs courtesy of Alaska State Parks