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Surviving the final weeks of trail snowmelt

  • Author: Alli Harvey
    | Alaska Outdoors
  • Updated: May 15
  • Published May 15

Break up? Over. Green up? Done. Trails dried out? Not quite.

This time of year I’m still waiting for winter to fully exit the scene. Yes, the warm, late evening hours tell me that summer is on its way. It hit 64 degrees in my neighborhood in Palmer earlier this week (I didn’t believe my car thermometer).

But many trails, especially higher up in the mountains, are still soggy from snow melt. This creates a no-go zone for those of us who care about keeping the trails in decent condition through the summer. Too many foot steps slogging through mud eventually harden into the trail’s surface once they finally dry, leaving an uneven trail.

Mountain bikes are even worse, carving deeper, more stumble-prone ruts in mud. I’m staring longingly at my bike and thinking about all the trail riding I’ll do once I’m able. But I’m holding off, not wanting to be that jerk who rides on a muddy trail just because I can’t wait.

So what is there to do during these few spring weeks when the weather and long evenings are near perfect, but the trails aren’t quite ready?

Here are a few ideas.

Road biking

I can’t promote this enough. The road shoulders and trails are perfect and bike ready. There is zero ice left on the path. Everything is dry. The cottonwood scent from the woods are that perfect spring reminder of why I live in Alaska (with just a hint of melted dog poop to keep it real). The feeling of zipping down Anchorage’s green belt trails, or now my bike trail through Palmer, especially after going to a friend’s house for dinner in the late evening is incomparable.

For something a little more structured or for some incentive, check out Friday’s Bike to Work Day (May 17). Or, self-organize: one of my favorite recent Saturdays with a friend was spent cruising from 203 Kombucha in downtown Palmer, to Bleeding Heart Brewery, and then back home.

We were being leisurely so we didn’t add more breweries to our tour, but for those in search of a fermented bike ride there are plenty to choose from. Don’t have a brewery in your town, or wanting something a little less consumption-or-alcohol based? Ride out to the grocery store, or pack a picnic with the family and ride out to a destination.


One of the more humbling experiences I’ve had in recent years was a birder remarking offhandedly to me at Westchester Lagoon: “I don’t understand these runners. They just speed on by the lagoon. Do they even notice anything? Do they see this family of birds that has been growing up right here in front of us, or are they just lost in their music?”

Guilty as charged, I thought. I’m that lost-in-my-head runner person. But I’ve always admired birders and secretly wanted to be one. A friend who’s taken up birding as one of her (many) hobbies patiently told me when I asked what I’d need to get into it: “Alli, there’s an app for that.”

Apparently one can simply buy a pair of binoculars and be on the way to becoming a birder. That sounds like a pretty cool life hobby to me and it’s a great time of year to get into it as the spring migration for hundreds of species really picks up in May.


I’ve tried this “gardening” thing with mixed results. At the end of the past two summers, as I flicked slugs off kale and tried to keep up with pulling the suddenly monstrous chickweed, I swore I’d just stick to supporting my local farmers and maybe apply my life skills where they are more useful.

But this time of year it’s tempting. I think why not just turn the beds, and plant some lettuces here and there? Wouldn’t sunflowers look nice again? For those of us with green thumbs, or even without them (like me) a nice way to invest a May day is to ready the beds and pick out the seeds and starts for planting. It’s a way of getting muddy that actually improves the landscape, instead of destroying a trail.

Like any time of year in Alaska, spring will be over quickly. Soon I’ll be out on the trails and forget all of this ever happened. In the meantime, I’m considering taking up birding — and you can find me out on my bike.

Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.

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