About Trail Watch
The Municipality of Anchorage's trail system is one of the city’s most prized and well-used resources. However, in the summer of 2003, several well-publicized incidents on Anchorage trails systems prompted significant community safety concerns.
In response, the Municipality of Anchorage developed the Trail Watch program. Through the Trail Watch program, volunteers patrol Anchorage trails with clearly visible Trail Watch armbands. These volunteers serve as extra “eyes and ears” for local law enforcement and act as a deterrent for crime. Trail Watch volunteers also identify hazardous trail conditions and provide assistance to trail users. The city began to develop the program on August, 1, 2003 and the program was officially launched on September 15, 2003.
The program was designed as a community-based effort and the priorities and guidelines were developed through community input. A series of meetings and interviews to learn about the habits and concerns of trail users were held. Major trail user groups like the Artic Bicycle Club, the Nordic Ski Association and the Friends of the Trails participated. Soon common concerns began to emerge:
- Many of the trails are poorly lit or overgrown providing potential opportunities for criminals.
- Many residents feel strongly about a particular part of the trail system and use the trail daily.
- Trail users wanted to take an active role in keeping trails safe.
- Scarcity of signs make navigating the trail system confusing.
- Professional emergency responders have a difficult time locating victims on the trails because victims often are unable to clearly articulate or describe their location.
- The Anchorage Police Department cannot track the number of incidents that occur on MOA trails due to a gap in the current crime-reporting system.
Based on these results, Trail Watch focuses on five main issues:
- volunteer patrols
- trail maintenance reporting system
- enhanced signage
- better tracking system for reporting crime on the trails and
- enhanced visibility on trail
In response to volunteer input, Trail Watch developed two levels of volunteerism. Trail Watchers are volunteers who patrol the trails according to their own schedule. Trail Watch Ambassadors patrol on a set schedule and receive additional trails training.
Trail Maintenance Reporting System
Volunteers use the Trail Watch feedback form to report trail conditions and maintenance issues such as trail erosion, graffiti, broken trail lights, and damaged equipment.
In an effort to increase signage along city trails, the city was able to secure a major sponsorship from a local business. As a result, trail signs were installed at the underpass and overpass of every trail-road intersection and large detailed trail maps were installed at key major trail heads. Other trail map sign needs were identified and will be installed as sponsor funds are obtained.
Crime Tracking and Reporting System
All Trail Watch volunteers are asked to watch an orientation hosted by Anchorage Police Department patrol officers and dispatch staff. In addition to receiving better reports from the trails, APD is implementing a new crime sub code – “TR.” This sub-code is added to the report of any incident that occurs on Anchorage trails and will enable the department to generate better statistics about crime on Anchorage trails.
The program has received a positive response from many local businesses, community groups and non-profit organizations. For example, Trail Watch has partnered with the Anchorage Responsible Beverage Retailers’ Association (ARBRA.) Through this partnership, Trail Watch volunteers report any alcohol-related litter on the trails and surrounding areas to ARBRA who then helps clean up camp areas. In 2006 ARBRA received a Park Challenge Grant focused on cleaning up Chester Creek Trail between Valley of the Moon Park and New Seward Highway in conjunction with Trail Watch. A local outdoor gear retailer donated backpacks to the Trail Watch volunteers. A local software company donated an on-line calendar tool. In 2004 the local branch of Covenant House agreed to staff Trail Watch headquarters beginning in the summer of 2004. Since then their efforts have become a youth-at-risk job training collaboration with youth agencies, businesses, and Parks & Recreation.
In an effort to increase trail safety, Trail Watch annually identifies trail segments on the popular trails that have poor site lines and limited off trail visibility. Since 2003, seven trail segments, two trail head areas, and the Ben Boeke wood lot have undergone a safety makeover using the principals of CPTED (Crime Prevention through Environmental Design) implemented in many urban areas and Fire Wise guidelines by the Anchorage Fire Department by Trail Watch volunteers, community groups, and trail users.