Learn about walk-and-bike-friendly communities at Sitka conference
April 1, 2020
Located on remote Baranof Island at the gateway to the Pacific Ocean, the city of Sitka is probably the last place one would expect to be at the forefront of the walking-biking movement. Yet this community of under 10,000 people is not only in front, it's fast becoming a leader among other walk and bicycle-friendly towns in the United States, winning accolades for its innovative approaches to human-powered advocacy and activities.
From June 9-13, Sitka's walking and biking groups will play host to other advocates around the state at the second annual Alaska Walk Bike Conference, held at the Aspen Suites Hotel in downtown Sitka.
Many of us probably grew up walking and biking around our respective hometowns without a thought. Families often had but one car, and the social culture was to allow, with little fanfare, people of all ages to walk or bicycle to and from work, school or play. Towns and cities were built around this concept, with sidewalks, public transportation and easy access points within neighborhoods.
Sometime during the sprawl from cities to suburbia, however, things changed. Wanting larger homes and more space, people began moving farther and farther from traditional neighborhoods where sidewalks were rare, even in housing developments. Parents began driving kids to schools located a distance from home. "It's too far to walk" became a mantra and as a result, a new generation of kids grew up expecting a ride from mom and dad.
Enter the walking-biking movement of the 21st century. Study after study provides context for social and physical health of human-powered motion. Lower blood pressure, increased happiness; it's all part of the outdoor and nature prescription for lifelong well-being, and Sitka, with its stunning scenery and small-town atmosphere, was the perfect place to start.
Sitka is the only city in Alaska with both Bicycle and Walk-Friendly designations from the Bike League and Walk Friendly Communities, respectively. The conference in June is themed "Walk.Bike.Roll. Creating an equitable transportation system for all," and centers around the planning and implementation required for other Alaska cities to jump on the bandwagon of human-powered movement. The first two days of the conference will center around walking; creating walkable communities, encouraging residents to take part in activities, advocacy and the like. The second two days will do the same for cycling, with registration available for one or both sections.
Attendees can look forward to several events that reflect Sitka's commitment to walking and biking, including guided hikes and rides, and many opportunities to talk with local officials about the decision-making and planning involved with such changes to a city's infrastructure.
But there's more. Attending the Sitka conference means the chance to explore Alaska's original capital city, known at one time as the "Paris of the Pacific." Take time to explore Totem National Historical Park, the Russian Bishop's House, and the Sheldon Jackson Museum, all located within walking distance of downtown. Take a stroll up to Castle Hill Park as well, the site of the official Russian-United States transfer of Alaska in 1867. For those looking for more strenuous adventures, Sitka is home to several hiking trails among the spruce trees and vistas of Baranof Island.
A tip: If you are at all interested in visiting during the conference, or at other times during the summer months, do make reservations early, from airfares to hotels. Alaska Airlines offers daily flights, and the Sitka Visitors Bureau can provide a comprehensive list of lodging options that range from simple to expansive.
For information about the 2020 Walk Bike Alaska conference, including fees and schedules: https://walkbikealaska.wordpress.com.
For more information about Sitka's walk-and-bike-friendly accolades:
Walk Friendly: http://walkfriendly.org/communities/sitka-ak/
For general Sitka information: http://www.visitsitka.org.