Like many APU students, Lilly Gritsavage will be in the mountains this summer. If it’s a windy day, look for the person wrapped in blankets at the trailhead.
Enrolled in APU’s Master of Science in Outdoor and Experiential Education, Lilly is conducting surveys on trail usage in Anchorage this summer. The results will inform her graduate thesis on developing diversity on trails through education programs.
“When I came to APU, I knew I was interested in continuing to study hiking for research,” she said. “I very quickly noticed Anchorage was a highly diverse city, but the trails have a different story.”
Her thesis will explore the benefits and barriers that hiking presents to different populations of Anchorage. She’s conducting surveys at trailheads across the city, specifically concentrating on popular spots like Flattop, Mount Baldy, and Rabbit Lake. Those trailheads help her prioritize the perspective of folks new to Anchorage, or new to hiking.
“When you Google ‘easy hike in Anchorage’ or ‘beginner hike in Anchorage,’ where are you going to go? Those are the trailheads I gravitated to,” she said.
Hikers who stop by her table complete a quick survey in-person, on paper, or on their phone. Questions explore the individual motivations that brought people to the trail, and what sometimes keeps them away. Demographic data show whether certain trails draw from certain neighborhoods and, importantly, which neighborhoods aren’t represented at all. By exploring what local trails provide for certain populations and lack for others, Lilly can suggest improvements. She’s sharing results of her survey with both Chugach State Park and the nonprofit Alaska Trails.
To capture the perspective of a big city like Anchorage, Lilly has to dedicate an equally large amount of time to surveying. From Memorial Day to mid-September, you can find her at the city’s trailheads. She’ll focus on analysis in the fall, writing in the winter, and graduating in the spring.
Hiking is an accessible entry point into the outdoors, especially compared to other high-risk and gear-dependent adventures in Alaska. She hopes her surveys provide a path to bring more hiking into Anchorage schools.
“I believe that if hiking is a part of school programs, it will then go back to families and we’ll see more families and more diversity on the trails,” she said.
Want to learn more? Follow Lilly’s graduate project on Instagram @HikeAnchorage. Or take the survey from home; just fill out the trailhead location as your most recent hike.