Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series outlining Juneau area trails this summer season. The next part will highlight trails from downtown Juneau, north to the end of the road and will run in next week’s Outdoors section.
Lace up those hiking boots and running shoes because trail season has arrived.
The snow is long gone down low and melting like a wax candle in the desert up high, inviting locals and visitors alike to hit the singletrack and take in some vistas.
But how have our winter trails fared over the long winter? And where can users expect to run into the annual construction efforts of trail crews?
Trail Mix Executive Director Erik Boraas and Mike Dilger, Recreation Resources Planner with the U.S. Forest Service, were able to provide a little insight into trail improvement work scheduled this summer season.
Treadwell Trail: Trail crews have already started churning the dirt on the Treadwell Trail, a roughly 16-mile-long historic trail connecting Douglas on one end with Eaglecrest Ski Area at the other.
Boraas said Trail Mix crew members this summer will concentrate efforts on a trail portion south of the Blueberry Hills access point.
“We put a lot of work in between Blueberry (Hill) and Gastineau Meadows,” Boraas said. “We’ll continue work this year south from Gastineau Meadows. We’re prepping that area for when the bridge goes in over Paris Creek, several years from now.”
He said users should be prepared to run into crews in that area of the trail for the better part of the summer.
The USFS and Trail Mix plan to team up to tackle the northern portion of the trail to construct new bridges, which have either been washed out over the years or have rotted away in Juneau’s marine climate. That work won’t happen until next year at the earliest, Dilger said.
This year, he said, the Forest Service is focused on the paperwork it will take to arrange for the improvements and for the public comment period that is required on a project such as this. Because of the trail’s historical significance — it was originally constructed as a flume to reroute water from Fish Creek to the mining efforts at the Treadwell Mine in the early 1900s — Dilger said he must create a detailed work plan to ensure any artifacts are preserved. He must also adhere, he said, to the National Environmental Policy Act and offer input from community members so all concerns may be addressed.
So far, he said he’s identified 39 areas in need of bridges.
“That’s everything from giant gorges that require a 60-foot bridge to a 3-foot perfect span for a culvert,” Dilger said.
Funding for the project was secured through the Secure Rural Schools Act and approved by the Resource Advisory Committee, which reviewed the project proposals. So far, they’ve secured $223,000 for the project. Trail Mix is scheduled to do most of the work installing the bridges.
Work, he said, if all goes well, will begin next season on the USFS-owned portion that begins just past the Dan Moller turn-off and runs north, ending where the trail spits out at Eaglecrest.
“We would like to do some improvements to the trail itself, but we didn’t quite have enough time (to get the funding secured),” Dilger said. “But we have enough pressure and time right now to address the bridges and we are going to make a longer, more complete long term plan for the rest of the trail.”
Overall, the trail this week was dry, which comes as no huge surprise since temperatures have hit record highs locally. Users reported “smooth sailing” on the often muddy singletrack. In fact, one user hiked a good portion of the trail in Teva sandals.
Boraas and Dilger both confirmed there were no plans to improve any neighborhood spurs off the main Treadwell Trail, such as the Bonnie Brae Trail, which has been dubbed one of the worst trails in Juneau.
“There’s no plans to work on the spurs,” Boraas said. “ We’ve been applying for grants, but nothing’s come through yet. Once the entire trail is fixed, those spurs will get hit hard.”
Fish Creek Trail: This trail, located just off North Douglas Highway on the way to the Douglas Boat Launch, is a popular area for walkers and joggers, but it gets especially busy when the king salmon return to Fish Creek Pond, where snagging is permitted by Alaska Department of Fish & Game.
The trail thins out as it follows Fish Creek upstream and is not recommended for travel when salmon are running due to bear activity.
But downstream, there are enough crowds for users to feel more comfortable.
A few summers ago this area got a new bridge, one that echoes the design of the Lawson Creek Bridge on the Treadwell Trail, as well as an expanded parking lot. Since then, the area has seen an increase in users. Be prepared to bump into others if visiting on a weekend.
Overall, the downstream portion of the trail is a wide swath of smooth gravel that winds around the banks of the Fish Creek Pond, before eventually meandering out into the Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge. It’s a good choice for a walk or jog and can even accommodate a stroller or jogger on most portions.
Mount Jumbo Trail: Boraas said there is no summer work planned for the Mount (Jumbo) Bradley trail that ends atop the 3,337-foot Mount Jumbo on Douglas Island.
The trailhead begins in Douglas, on 5th Street, between two private residences and quickly disappears into the rainforest on a lolling tongue of a trail. It quickly turns hairy, however, as the trail narrows and climbs nearly straight up the flanks of the peak. This time of year the lower portion is certainly clear of snow, but users should be prepared to hit drifts as they get closer to the alpine. An ice axe or trekking poles may come in handy, but as the summer progresses a good pair of hiking boots will suffice for most.
The trail, Boraas said, is managed by the Mental Health Trust Authority, a state corporation founded and endowed with land and cash during statehood proceedings 50 years ago.
Sandy Beach and Treadwell Historical Trail: There’s nothing new to report at this popular destination.
The trails themselves are well-used by families, dog-walkers, runners and those just out for a stroll. Artifacts linger trailside and interpretive signs help provide a little insight into the hay day of the Treadwell Mining Company.
The looped trails provide a couple miles of reprieve from the bustle of Savikko Park and the Douglas Harbor and rolling pathways are wide enough to accommodate friends walking side-by-side.
Rainforest Trail: North, way north on Douglas Island, past the wide paved pull-out of False Outer Point is the Rainforest Trail. This mile-long loop takes users the long way through the rainforest and down to the ocean shoreline before looping back uphill to the parking area.
The surface of the trail is packed gravel and it stands up well against the elements. This year, it remains in good condition, providing a solid tread for walkers and runners.
Outer Point: Farther down North Douglas Highway, about a quarter mile from the Rainforest Trail is the Outer Point Trail.
This spring, Trail Mix crews have already been working to replace rotting, slippery boardwalk with a gravel pathway that will reroute around a few boggy areas. The ultimate goal is to create a trail that is accessible to individuals with disabilities and provide them with access to the ocean.
Boraas said crews should be either finished or extremely close to wrapping up the construction at this time. Work should not continue past the end of June, he said.
In all, this trail tops out just over one mile and is a gentle grade, catering to a variety of users and abilities.
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Abby Lowell at firstname.lastname@example.org