Propping up the Peterson Lake Trail

In just a few weeks crews with Trail Mix Inc. have vastly improved the degrading Peterson Lake Trail, north of Juneau. They’ve distributed rough rock — the beginning of a new trail surface — and hauled out rotting boardwalk, carefully working around the historic relics that remain after decades of rain and weather.


But work on this 4.3-mile long trail is just beginning.

Mike Dilger, a recreation resources planner with the U.S. Forest Service, said the project to improve the Peterson Lake Trail, at mile 24 on Glacier Highway, is one that has been in the works for years and includes plans to preserve historical items found trailside, integrate interpretive signs, a rest area with a view, among others.

Work this fall, Dilger said, is focused on the first ¾ mile of trail — the worst portion.

Here, hikers contend with mud holes so deep even Xtratuffs don’t cut it. In some places, the trail has expanded to more than 12 feet across as users try to ovoid the sludge. Rotting boards are coated in slick slime and moss. And after a hard rain, water flows down the trail corridor, picking up speed and current as it heads for Peterson Creek, eroding the trail deeper into the earth.

Yet it’s the first two miles of the trail that follow a historic tramway, which was used to carry supplies to and from the Peterson mining claim. The trail, lake, cabin and mine are named for John Peterson, who homesteaded the property across the highway at Pearl Harbor, now run as the Jensen-Olson Arboretum by the city. Peterson started the placer gold mine in 1900. It produced 211 ounces of gold and eight ounces of silver over more than two decades. After Peterson died in 1916, his daughters, Irma and Margaret, continued to operate the mine until 1923.

The tramway itself was built from wood on a bench cut from the side slope. It is about three feet wide and is constructed of deck boards fastened perpendicularly to the direction of foot traffic over top of stringers set in the earth. Metal straps were fastened on the outer portions of the deck to guide mining carts. The trail continued to be used for fishing access and became more popular when, in the 1980s, the Forest Service built the Peterson Lake cabin across the lake from the mine.

The overall objective for this phase of work, Dilger said, is to get rid of the boot-sucking mud holes that riddle the trail and highlight the historic significance of the area so the stories are not forgotten.

Crews working this fall are aiming to get the first layer of rough rock distributed on the trail to the first overlook of a falls on Peterson Creek.

On Monday, workers were hauling in rock with Canycom walk-behind track carriers. Some crew members were using hand tools to prepare the new trail surface by carefully removing vegetation and distributing a layer of porous fabric to support the blasted stone.

Miller Construction, the company currently working on road improvements just north of Eagle Beach Recreation Area, is providing rock for this phase of the project.

Trail Mix crews worked around remnants of the tramway, in some sections, and in others it was carefully set aside.

Dilger said the plan is to top the rough rock base with a finer D-1 cut. In some places, the tramway will be reconstructed on top of the rock base, using the original metal straps and wood when possible.

The completed trail will also tip a hat, so to speak, to the local biking and Nordic skiing community. Dilger said they are trying to keep the structures to a minimum to enhance the experience for both types of users. Furthermore, he said, the new smooth rock surface should lengthen winter use of the trail.

This trail has become increasingly popular since the renovation of the public-use USFS cabin at the end of the trail, Ed Grossman said.

Grossman, the recreation program manager for the USFS, said they’ve seen the use numbers increase at the cabin in the last year.

“Use is up from our averages in past years,” Grossman said. “It went from 100 nights rented per year … now it’s up to 195, a significant change.”

The hope is that use will continue to increase with the improvement of the trail.

Dilger said money for the project came from federal sources as well as grants secured by Trail Mix. He said the local nonprofit also provided funding from fundraising efforts last year.

Crews plan to work until the snow flies, when they’ll take a hiatus until things thaw in the spring. Dilger said at that time they’ll work on putting the top layer of rock on the trail.

Further improvements, including the interpretive signs and rest area, are part of a future phase, which has yet to be officially scheduled, he said.


• Contact Outdoors Editor Abby Lowell at

Slideshow | Improving Peterson Lake Trail


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