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Empire Editorial: A tip of the hat to local trail crews, organizers

Posted: September 18, 2013 - 10:56pm  |  Updated: September 19, 2013 - 12:00am

Today, we tip our hats to the crews who toil in the mud and chip away at the rock to make experiences on local and regional trails not only more enjoyable, but also more accessible.

Perhaps you’ve seen them this week, the U.S. Forest Service men and women who’ve been working in the fall rains to cut stairs into sheer rock on the West Glacier Trail. Or maybe you bumped into some of the crews who, with pick axes and shovels, cut switchbacks deeper into the slopes of Mount Juneau this summer and last. Perhaps you’ve used the improved Outer Point Trail on Douglas Island. Did you notice it’s closer to being ADA accessible?

While the work is often rewarding — the results from a hard day on the job are often quite evident — we estimate that’s not always the case. It must get old to go home each night coated in muskeg mud. Sore muscles and tired bodies are probably a common thread, at least at the beginning of each season. And it’s probably hard to hear jabs from trail users who think the job wasn’t good enough, or the improvements not up to snuff. We realize there are not always perfect solutions to Mother Nature’s obstacles.

Perhaps the rewards are many and may come as a surprise. The best blueberry stashes are probably only known to trail crews, who spend nearly all their time in our rainforest. Crew members probably sport the best “farmer’s tan” of any Juneauite by the end of a season, unless, of course, it rained all summer. Then, they likely boast deeply-grooved “prune fingers” after being slightly soaking for hours on end.

On a more serious note, however, we see one benefit rising above the rest: The work of local trail crews helps to ensure generations of future visitors and residents will have opportunities to experience all that is Southeast Alaska.

To say their work is important is an understatement. They make our wilderness accessible and, each night, crews should go home proud. They help to make some of Alaska’s outdoor experiences possible for the rest of us.

The work that’s planned each summer in and around Juneau is substantial and well thought out. Between the cooperation of the USFS, the City and Borough of Juneau Parks and Recreation Department and the local nonprofit Trail Mix Inc., it’s fair to say no rock is left unturned. Take the Treadwell Trail for instance. For years locals have called for improvements on this historic path. They got to work on what they could, focusing first on the city-owned land by filling mud holes, improving access points and rebuilding decrepit bridges. The USFS is doing its due diligence on its portion, making sure to carefully follow the preservation process and plan around historic relics where possible. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. Natural forces wreak havoc on our trails, water being one of the worst offenders, and often creative thinking is needed to identify solutions to tough trail problems.

So, today, we say “Thank you” to these crews, to the organizations and nonprofits who hustle during sunny weather to make sure our trail system — which is pretty impressive, by the way — takes users to the heights and sights they seek.

Keep up the good work and we’ll see you on the trails.

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