- Associated Press - Saturday, June 13, 2015

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) - When relatives of Nilo Koponen wanted to develop the family homestead in a manner that preserved some green space, they hired Geoff Orth to help.

The 61-year-old former commercial fisherman is based in Ester but works on trails issues statewide. His consulting business is called Stray Dogs.

The National Park Service and the Interior Alaska Land Trust have hired Orth for his expertise. He is currently consulting on a trails project in Delta Junction.

Orth has helped on projects to develop new trail systems in Fairbanks, including the 11-mile Ester Dome Singletrack-Happy Valley Trail located at 1.6 Mile Ester Dome Road. The trail, completed in 2011, attracts mountain bikers, hikers, runners, cross country skiers and snowshoers.

Orth served as the president of Alaska Trails, a statewide trails organization, until last year, and he continues to serve on the trails advisory commission for the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

He also raises money to support litigation against property owners who block access to public trails that go across private land.

In one case, Orth was able to convince a property owner, who had blocked a trail, to move the trail to the edge of their property and maintain public access.

In another case, which is ongoing, Orth sued a property owner in Ester who blocked a road historically used to gain access to three other trail systems since at least the 1960s.

Orth wants the property owner to open access or move the road, he said.

He was an expert witness in another court case involving trails access.

“I have always used trails,” he said. “Trails are a resource.”

Chena Koponen-Newman said her family hired Orth to help improve a trail system developed by her parents and enjoyed by the family for decades.

Orth helped the Koponen family start a nonprofit group, apply for grant money and he also provided technical assistance as far as where and what kinds of trails to make to connect a new subdivision with the family’s historic trails.

Koponen-Newman said the new subdivision is being developed in a manner so other families can enjoy the property as her family has.

“You can get out right from your back door like we did for 50 years,” Koponen-Newman said. “It was just a great way to grow up. We want other people to have that opportunity.”

Orth wants more subdivisions to unfold in the same manner. He says he can help developers incorporate trails into their projects, and the developers can make more money selling lots.

Originally from California, Orth has lived in Alaska since 1972. His undergraduate degree is in biology. He also has a master’s degree in anthropology. He is married to artist Sheryl Maree Reily. They have two grown children.

Orth worked as a freelance photographer - he covered the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill - and has sent his pictures to New York and Europe for publication.

He worked summers as a commercial fisherman in Egigik until retiring in 2004.

“All of a sudden, I had a big block of time in the summer,” he said.

So Orth started to document the trails around Ester. “If they are not documented and something happens, it’s gone,” he said.

That led to involvement with trails locally and eventually statewide. Orth has completed multiple trail management and construction workshops. He now teaches trails workshops.

Orth said he never planned for a second career as a trails consultant. It happened because he feels passionate about trails.

“If somebody doesn’t step up, you’ve got to do it,” he said.


The original story can be found on the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner’s website: https://bit.ly/1eYDyTQ


Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, https://www.newsminer.com

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