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These Juneau people love them some trails. City and Borough of Juneau Parks and Rec did a community survey and found that, “Hiking is overwhelmingly the most popular recreational activity…” 89 percent of residents used trails in the previous 12 months. Seventy-eight percent consider trails to be “high or very high value to the community.
Juneau’s world class community trail system and its steward: Trail Mix 081017 AE 1 For the Capital City Weekly These Juneau people love them some trails. City and Borough of Juneau Parks and Rec did a community survey and found that, “Hiking is overwhelmingly the most popular recreational activity…” 89 percent of residents used trails in the previous 12 months. Seventy-eight percent consider trails to be “high or very high value to the community.

Hiker on Mount Roberts. Photo by Kathy Callahan.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Story last updated at 8/8/2017 - 4:45 pm

Juneau’s world class community trail system and its steward: Trail Mix

Paint the house, clean the gutters, de-moss the roof, de-slug the garden, mow, weed, fix the deck, seal the driveway, use that re-cycle punch card for a dump run…it’s a long list when the sun breaks out, as it did last week, after all those weeks of cold rain. With nothing but Shamash in the forecast for 10 days, all that was supposed to be done by the Fourth of July is letting householders know that here’s our chance and, if things don’t happen now, that window of opportunity might not open again until next year. This is just the incentive that makes our town roll up its sleeves, walk out the door, and go hiking. The only question is, ‘What trail to take?’ 1

These Juneau people love them some trails. City and Borough of Juneau Parks and Rec did a community survey and found that, “Hiking is overwhelmingly the most popular recreational activity…” 89 percent of residents used trails in the previous 12 months. Seventy-eight percent consider trails to be “high or very high value to the community.”2

Trails are where parents take their babies in backpacks and let the little kids loose to run off surplus energy. Teenagers go out alone or together as a healthy thing to do away from parents. Lovers propose marriage on trails. People reduce stress by mindful walking which the Japanese call ‘forest bathing.’ In a sense, everyone out there is forest bathing and that reflective state has been proven to reduce blood pressure and boost the immune system. The trails provide a superb training area for runners and are a primary reason we’ve got such a strong running community. Mountain bikers use many trails and lots of local people bring company for bike trips to Herbert Glacier on the ultimately doable Herbert Glacier Trail. Hunters use the trails to access deer and haul them out which is way easier than dragging them through blueberry thickets. In winter, cross country skiers and snowshoers use the trails. When a hiker’s dog dies, it’s a thing around here for that person to take their companion on a last hike and scatter the ashes on a meadow of a much loved trail. Some few hikers’ ashes go for that last hike, too. Up to a high ridge in a loved one’s backpack, then away on the wind.

All those trails

Adding up the mileage of all our hundred or so trails to would be a slick little statistic, but I pass because it would be misleading. A lot of the trails are conduits to the Great Land without a real ending. As local ultra-marathon running champion and trainer, Geoff Roes, pointed out to Trail Runner magazine, “Tree line is between 1,500 and 2,000 feet, so you can run just a couple miles up dozens of different trails that lead to hundreds of miles of open ridgelines.” Maybe that’s what the Buddha meant when he said, “When you get to the top of the mountain keep climbing.”

In the same vein, Lemon Creek trail is just a few miles long but people use it to get to Camp 17 on the Juneau Ice field. From there you’re looking over an ice and snow expanse bigger than Rhode Island where you can go wherever you are able for as long as you can. Down lower, the beach trails are mostly short but they open up miles and miles of beaches, most of them secluded and quiet. Trails also lead to various Forest Service cabins that we use as bases to hike and ski and contemplate.

Where did they come from?

The backbone of Juneau’s trail system is the legacy of thousands of immigrants who came here in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s hell-bent on moving anything between them and gold. Amalga Trail, Nugget Creek, Montana Creek, Perseverance, Salmon Creek, Treadwell Ditch, DuPont and many others began as roads to the mines or as hydropower access routes bringing water to run the mills. Get up above East Glacier trail and you find thick cable, gears and other giant’s toys all rusting away. Towards the end of the Perseverance there’s a long, tall, gorgeous stone retaining wall, probably a hundred years old, built by European craftsman (one local historian says they were Moldavians), still straight as a gun barrel after all those years. Big, rotted pipes along Treadwell Ditch are from the days when miners siphoned off every stream on the Douglas side of Gastineau Channel and ran them down a flume for power. 3

Mount Juneau trail has two series of switchbacks. Down low, where it branches from the Perseverance Trail, switchbacks are from a century ago when miners needed a gentler back and forth for mules and horses hauling heavy gear up the mountainside. From those days until just a few years ago the upper trail was a straight shot like a staircase, except it was eroding into the mountain from all the hikers. When it rained it was a wash gully. Now higher up where you could use a gentler back and forth because your thighs are burning from a 4,000 foot elevation gain, Mount Juneau Trail has a series of switchbacks. Those are thanks to Trail Mix.

Trail Mix

Twenty-four years ago, in January, 1993, the CBJ, the State of Alaska (Division of Parks and Rec), and the Federal Government (US Forest Service) approved “The Juneau Trails Plan,” 4 an agreement to work together for the recreational benefit of people within their jurisdictions. Resolutions are fine but Trail Mix, a non-profit community asset, was founded that same year by hiking enthusiasts to work collaboratively with CBJ, the State and the Forest Service to make the trails plan a reality.

Today Trail Mix has about 500 members, a nine person volunteer board of directors and a hard working paid seasonal crew which is overseen by executive director Erik Boraas. Among many other jobs, Erik coordinates brushing for 61 CBJ trails, organizes community volunteer trail work events and puts together service days for youth groups, church groups, businesses, crew members from the USS O’Kane who worked on the Outer Point trail when they were in town, and generally anyone with 15 or more people who want to work on trails. Volunteer work parties not only help with trails, their hours count towards community buy-in for matching grants.

A jewel in the making is the Treadwell Ditch trail which was a priority of the original 1993 Juneau Trails Plan. Some of the most consistent workers in that effort are Trail Mix Board members Dave Haas, Jack Kreinheder, retired Forest Service employee (and Trail Mix 2013 volunteer of the year) Marc Scholten, who along with three or four members of a rotating group of 25 men, ride mountain bikes into a work site on the trail two days a week. They spend the morning working on the south end of the trail between Mt. Jumbo and the Dan Moller trail. Then they have lunch and ride out again. Most of the men are retired. A number of them have worked on the trail, on their own, for years.

“It’s good to be in a position to give back for people who have loved living here,” Dave said.

Their part of the trail will soon be connecting with the trail between Dan Moller and the Bonnie Brae spur that a Forest Service crew is working on. Bridges are going in, gravel is being helicoptered to where it’s needed and ultimately the Treadwell, which had little to no maintenance after the Treadwell mine collapse in 1917, will be revived and stable all the way from Eaglecrest to Mount Jumbo.

Trail Mix funding comes from grants, memberships, fundraisers, donations, and endowments. Given the trail system’s central role in community life, the Juneau Community Foundation has established a Parks, Trails & Recreation Fund with the goal being ‘to increase local philanthropy for near and long term impact…” You can read about the Fund on Juneau Community Foundation’s website. 5 To learn more about the fund or to donate, contact CF Program Director, and avid trail hiker, Jamie Waste here, jamie@juneaucf.org.

1 unless you’ve got a boat. In which case it’s, “Do we go out in the boat or hike?” Answer: “Both.”

2 What We Heard: City and Borough of Juneau Parks and Recreation Master Plan Preliminary Findings, December, 2016

https://www.placespeak.com/uploads/4692/What_we_heard_Dec_2016.pdf

3 Some local trails evolved from expanded game trails, Tlingit paths, homestead trails, and recreational trails made by the local hiking groups and the Forest Service.

4 The Juneau Trails Plan—Final Plan: A Cooperative Effort 1993

www.juneau.org/cddftp/TheJuneauTrailsFinalPlan1993.pdf

5 Parks, Trails and Recreation Fund

juneau.org/index.php/parks-trails-recreation-fund/