Last week, the Municipality of Anchorage formally announced the closure of all park playgrounds, sport courts, and ice rinks in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. While this didn’t meet with approval among all city residents, the vast majority, while disappointed, realized the necessity. Anchorage parks represent 223 sites that vary among grassy fields, trails, play spaces, and sport facilities stretching between Girdwood and Chugiak. It’s a huge area, and I’ll be the first to admit I’ve not visited every one on the list.
But with all kinds of extra time these days, I’ve made a commitment to visit as many Anchorage parks as possible that have options available besides playground structures. I’ve started with, of course, the letter ‘A,’ as in Abbott Loop Community Park.
Located at 8101 Elmore Rd (99507), Abbott Loop is a well-known place during Anchorage’s spring and summer months as the site of many a youth baseball game. It’s also a popular place for walkers, runners, bikers, and winter skiers to access the vast network of trails that merge into the Bureau of Land Management’s Campbell Tract and the Muni’s Far North Bicentennial Park. Abbott Loop features a towering picnic shelter that provides a rustic outdoor scene for group parties, especially on a clear day when the Chugach range looms as a backdrop. The playground is small but attractive, and brings out many a small child on nice days, and especially when older siblings are at soccer practice or baseball games.
It’s a busy, bustling place any time of year, but with playground closures and physical distancing now a real worry, it’s also become a bit of a bottleneck. Fortunately, with hundreds of acres of property at visitors’ disposal, it’s also the perfect place to do a bit of nature exploring.
For kids under age 5: Bring your hula hoops and kick balls and other little kid entertainment, snow or no snow, and have some fun on the large expansive field. (Oh, and dog parents, c’mon. Pick up the poop. Every time.) Bring out a spray bottle filled with colored water and make some designs on the leftover snow. Make a sports-themed obstacle course or run races with each other. It’s not often we have an entire field available with few other people, so make the most of it.
In the nearby forest framing the field, plop down on a fallen log and see how many bugs might be stirring as spring gets underway. Look for interesting-shaped rocks, or see if any buds have appeared on branches. Take a walk around the ball fields and along the side trails nearby. What do you hear? Traffic? Wind in the trees? Birds? I heard all three the other day.
For kids over age 5: These same woods would be an excellent place for an Easter Egg hunt. Fill eggs with instructions that lead to an end point (sort of like a treasure hunt), tell the bigger kids to hide their eyes while you hide the eggs, then turn them loose. Have both big and little kids along? Pair them up for an excellent lesson in reading and following directions as a team.
The Abbott Loop Park woods is filled with downed trees and branches, thanks to an abundance of scraggly black spruce. This is a great fort-building area, so have at it, but be sure to take only sticks and branches found on the ground already.
Bigger kids can also stand a bit longer walk through the social trails criss-crossing around the park. Do be wary of moose, who are getting a little grumpy as winter comes to an end, but also enjoy this time out in the forest. How many animal signs can you find? Hint: I saw signs of moose, squirrel, porcupine, and lots of birds. Draw or journal your discoveries.
Tips: Many trails and walkways in Anchorage parks are in the “half-melt” stage, which means they can be slick in spots. I managed fine without spikes or grippers, but you may want to bring them along, just in case.
Make sure kids of all ages know what “physical distancing” means. Give them a practical example they will understand. “Two bicycle lengths; the length of mom/dad’s skis; a moose length; whatever your children will understand. Show them before you head out. Some parents, while out walking, have a family “code word” for coming back to parents when too many people get too close. Making it like a game of “Who can get back the fastest and safest” can be a great way to keep a bit of levity in these tough times.
Read more about AKontheGO’s commitment to kids and families during the COVID-19 crisis: