Construction is beginning on a new maintenance building for the Tsalteshi Trails just outside of Soldotna.
Trees began to be cleared a couple of weeks ago, and now an empty clearing is clearly visible above the Skyview Middle School pool parking lot behind the school building, on the hill next to the tennis courts.
Jenny Neyman, the administrative coordinator at Tsalteshi Trails Association, said that the project will be a storage and maintenance center for the trail, replacing “the Alaska standard contingent of conex boxes, lean-tos and sheds” currently in use.
The facility will be used to store and repair snowmachines, a Bobcat, ski grooming drags and drums, as well as other tools and equipment.
According to Tom Seggerman, maintenance manager at Tsalteshi, the trails have simply outgrown all of their storage spaces and equipment needs.
Seggerman described the first storage space being built to house a single snowmachine. As the trails expanded, more equipment was needed.
Right now, all of this equipment is stored in spaces that aren’t climate controlled, and also that lack the space for organizing and working on the machines.
“It’s like musical chairs anytime you want to try and get in there and get to anything,” Neyman said.
The last time a new storage space was built was in 2001. That space was 16 by 24 feet. The new space being built is 36 by 60. It will also have large doors on both sides so machines can be driven in, repaired, maintained or just de-iced, then driven out the other side.
The completed storage building will also be heated, which Neyman said will help increase the lifespan of Tsalteshi’s equipment that now must face the cold of winter.
Another benefit to the new building is improved efficiency during busy seasons.
“Right now, our equipment is literally in the middle of the busiest trailhead,” Neyman said. “Our grooming equipment ends up being marooned.”
Moving the storage off to the outside of the trails allows for grooming other trails even while the main parts of the trail system are in use. Neyman said groomers will be able to use the new maintenance hub to sneak out the side and groom the other 20 kilometers of the trail even if the main areas are dominated by a 5-kilometer race.
Aside from the logistic benefits, Seggerman said that the space was chosen also because it was the most cost-effective of the areas on property leased by Tsalteshi to implement utilities.
Excavation is starting now, then gravel for the driveway and the foundation will be put in this fall. The structure is set to be erected next spring with a target to finish and have the building operational by winter. Funding was secured through a Recreational Trails Program grant, administered by the Federal Highway Association through Alaska’s Department of Parks and Outdoor Recreation. The grant provided funds just under $150,000, and is supplemented by a further $16,000 from Tsalteshi.
Neyman said this funding covers “phase one” of construction. That will allow the Tsalteshi Trails Association to build the space and provide electricity. This is targeted for completion by the start of next summer.
Neyman said fundraising is actively underway for phase two, which will implement water, sewer, gas and heat to the building. Assuming fundraising goes well, Neyman says the trails association would like to have the building completed by the end of next summer or potentially into next fall.
Ideally, all of the grooming will be able to be run from the building in time for the winter of 2023-24.
Looking to the future, Seggerman said the goal is to purchase a PistenBully, “state of the art grooming equipment,” that needs a storage facility like the one being built.
“One person can operate that and groom everything in one pass,” he said.
They’d also like to implement solar panels on the roof to offset energy costs and carbon footprint, Seggerman said.
“It’s a pretty big deal for us,” Neyman said. “Our fundraisers are usually to build a trail or extend lighting or purchase a piece of equipment. We haven’t built anything in over 10 years.”
Fundraising is being done primarily via grant applications, though Neyman said there is a link to donate at tsalteshi.org, where more information about the project can also be found.