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Outdoors Notebook: Treadwell Ditch Trail

Posted: August 16, 2012 - 11:00pm

Featured trail: Treadwell Ditch Trail.

Length: 16 miles.

Location: Douglas Island.

User friendly: Hiking, running, mountain biking.

About: Historically, this pathway ran next to a complex waterway built by miners in 1889 to shuttle water from the Fish Creek drainage to the Treadwell Mines, south of Douglas. Sixteen miles long and about 5 feet wide, the ditch collected enough water from snowmelt and streams to power the massive mining operation, which shut down in 1917 after the tunnels were flooded by seawater following a massive cave-in. Today, the trail is still littered with the remnants of Juneau’s mining history — moss-covered rail ties, sunken and weak from a century of decay; dark tunnels carved into the mountainside; a ditch-tender cabin surrounded in devil’s club and skunk cabbage; and weathered hollows carved into ancient trees.

The trail itself is a relic of sorts; it’s overgrown in places, almost completely eroded away in others, blocked by fallen trees and littered with broken bridges and rotting ladders. This year, however, improvements have improved the pathway and opened it up to various user groups including hikers, runners and — most notably — mountain bikers. On the section from Blueberry Hill to Gastineau Meadows, bridges have been built specifically for the intermediate to advanced rider. Other features include a small jump over a stream, raised gravel pathways and improvements that reduce the amount of dismounts. Despite the upgrades, perfection of the trail is still a few years away and users should be cautious if travelling the trail during heavy rainfall.

Getting there: Located on Douglas Island, There are various access points for the Treadwell Ditch Trail. Begin the trail at either end — Douglas or at Eaglecrest — or start at one of the many trailheads along the way. The Blueberry and Crow hill access points are popular and well-marked.

• Nominate your favorite trail by sending an email to outdoors@juneauempire.com.

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