Not far from the Mendenhall Glacier, nestled among the ferns and the mosses, and the thick stands of bulky alders, are a set of stones neatly placed in a wide horseshoe. They are the remains of a parking lot built in 1930, which served as a congregating area for visitors who sought to experience the hulking glacier in an up-close and personal way.
At the time, the ice of the glacier rested just beyond the parking lot, behind bare mounds of rock. Eighteen years later, the ice had receded and a new area for vehicles was built closer to the face. Eighty-two years later, the temperate rainforest of Southeast had swallowed up the old lot and taken with it nearly all the evidence of its existence — until now.
The location of this old parking lot today is highlighted with a plaque along the newly completed Trail of Time, which winds through about a mile of the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area.
This relic is one of many along the trail that locals have likely strolled right past.
Ed Grossman, Recreation Program Manager for the U.S. Forest Service, said for years he didn’t even know any of it was hidden.
With the help of local historians, such as Jim Geraghty, and individuals at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum, the USFS was able to highlight these historic features and provide a bit of insight into why and how these artifacts were used during their prime.
The project began more than a year ago, Grossman said, funded with money from the stimulus jobs bill — the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Grossman said the ultimate goal, besides creating a meaningful, accessible and aesthetically pleasing trail, was to spread the funding around by subcontracting out the work to local businesses such as Admiralty Construction — who did the majority of the trail construction work and was charged with installing the new bridge over Steep Creek — and Alaska Concrete Casting. Owner Dave Hanna designed a one-of-a-kind set of concrete steps near the site of the old Nugget Creek Powerhouse, Grossman said. Another group who benefitted from the construction of the trail was SAGA who was able to take the experience gained from working on the trail to other projects around Southeast.
Wandering down the trail, just past the old parking lot, is another interpretive sign.
This one, titled “Water from a rock,” spotlights a drinking fountain that had been carved from a granite boulder in 1930. As the story goes, a Civilian Conservation Corps employee, Andy Haffner, had modified this boulder into a drinking fountain by drilling a hole through it and piping in clear water from nearby Steep Creek. Today, soil, gravel and decades of vegetation have filled in around the base of the boulder, but the quarter-sized hole and collecting basin can still be seen.
Deeper into the forest, a huge pipe, rusted after years of Mother Nature’s abuse, is another relic in the spotlight. According to the interpretive sign, this steel pipe once carried water more than one mile from Nugget Creek to the Nugget Creek Powerhouse. The Treadwell Mining Company bought the water rights to Nugget Creek from miner Ben Bullard for $10,000. The pipeline itself was constructed between 1912 and 1914, according to the signage, and passed through a 650-foot tunnel carved through the ridge between Nugget Creek and the Mendenhall Valley. Of course, the construction of such a pipeline wasn’t easy. Research by USFS heritage individuals revealed that pipeline segments were positioned by an elaborate aerial tram system that traversed the ups and downs, and the ins and outs of complicated glacial topography.
The interpretive signs continue and are peppered at varying intervals along the trail. Grossman said many of the relics were uncovered with the help of Geraghty, who not only supplied a wealth of information, but also shared photographs from his personal collection. Grossman said Geraghty spent many hours hunting through the rainforest to uncover some of the historical objects on the trail.
Beyond the artifacts themselves, the old photographs reveal the “moonscape” that used to exist in and around the trails of the past. In the black and white images, bare rock abounds and the Mendenhall Glacier looks foreign when compared to present day images.
Today, the Trail of Time offers a glimpse, Grossman said, into the activities and the early tourism that existed around the glacier.
• Contact Outdoors editor Abby Lowell at email@example.com.