There are big things planned — improvements, additions and expansions — at three of Juneau’s most heavily used recreation areas.
This month, the U.S. Forest Service is focusing on a trio of recreation hot spots including Lena Beach Recreation Area, West Glacier Spur Road Area and the Treadwell Ditch Trail north from Blueberry Hill.
At present, the projects are up for public comment and the Forest Service is actively seeking input from community members on what they would like to see as part of the improvement plan. In fact, an open house is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. on Monday where officials will outline the details of the projects and offer an opportunity for attendees to ask questions. The program is scheduled to repeat at 6:30 p.m.
Recreation Program Manager Ed Grossman said the reason for examining all projects at once comes down to efficiency.
“We did do all three together, because it takes a lot of effort to bring people together after hours,” he said. “If one takes more effort or gets held up, the others can continue.”
Some of the proposed improvements at Lena Beach, one of the few recreation areas in Juneau that sees daily use, includes the paving of a pothole-ridden road and creating diagonal parking spaces. Plans also call for creating a bridge over what for many years has been a steam stuffed through a culvert. That steam sees anadromous fish runs each year and this change is aimed at making fish passage easier. Officials also would like to improve the existing shelters at the area, and have proposed making one available for reservations, much like the popular shelters at Auke Recreation Area. Other plans include hardening the existing trails to improve accessibility to the site, as well as hiring a host to watch over the area during peak use times.
“Auke Rec. is very popular because of the availability of a shelter to rent. There’s five shelters at Lena Beach,” Grossman said. “This would help in the long term to maintain the site and upkeep of the place. The demand is so high for these spots, having another option (besides) Auke Village and Skater’s Cabin would be welcome. But ultimately, it’s up to the public.
In the vicinity of the West Glacier Trail, there’s a massive need for upgraded toilet facilities, Grossman said. For years a handful of portable toilets have dotted the area, but with an increase in tourist and local use, the USFS needs a more permanent solution.
“When 200 people show up to go rafting, they do their thing and then they are gone. It doesn’t work to have a line standing for one or two outhouses,” he said. “We’re looking at a six-hole thing. We are unsure if we would open in the winter.”
In the winter, the area still sees a lot of use. The adjacent Mendenhall Campground is a hot spot for Nordic skiers, dog-walkers and snowshoers. Often, cars are park in long lines down the road, sometimes reducing two lanes to one. The improvement plan for this area includes adding a spur trail from the West Glacier parking lot to a spot across the street from Skater’s Cabin. The trail would be wide and firm enough to be groomed in the winter and smooth enough to be used for biking, hiking and running in the summer.
“The reason we didn’t stay along the road is because we would have had to reduce the (wooded) screen between the road and the lake,” Grossman said. “We opted to cross at a safe place and provide a different experience.”
Other proposed improvements include upgraded signage, rebuilt and rotated shelters, and a new gate to secure the area during glacial outburst events, to name only a few.
On the historic Treadwell Ditch Trail, the USFS is proposing to reconstruct three major bridges, possibly four, Grossman said. The trail on Douglas Island, which follows one of the longest and most gentle grades in the borough, has seen a lot of attention in recent years from Trail Mix Inc., a local nonprofit dedicated to the upkeep of area trails. But most of the work has been focused on the southern end, the portion closest to Douglas, which is on city-owned land. USFS-owned land begins just past the Dan Moller Trail turnoff and currently features 39 stream crossings as well as other obstacles as the trail heads northward toward the Bonnie Brae Subdivision. Other hazards include a washed-out historic trestle that left behind a gaping gorge.
Besides the construction of new bridges, improvement proposals also include hardening about 500 feet of mudhole-ridden trail and constructing approximately 1,500 feet of new trail.
“The work will start with the three major crossings and the reroute,” Grossman said. “I think the user made trails will be improved upon; usually they take the shortest path, but not necessarily the easiest. And then there’s the historical aspect. Everything there needs to be reviewed by the state historic preservation offices, we’re trying to protect and avoid cool features, and yet make the trail very accessible.”
Work on these projects isn’t slated to start until 2015, Grossman said. Once they complete the public comment process, which is currently open until April 18, they will put the projects out for bid. Funding will come from the Federal Lands Access Program, which is administered by the Federal Highway Administration and requires matching funds to be provided by the applying organizations or entities.
Grossman declined to comment on how much each of the improvement projects will cost, due to the fact the contracts have not yet been awarded.
But he does hope the public takes this opportunity to weigh in on what they’d like to see happen at each of these areas. All comments must be submitted in writing via mail or email.
• Contact Outdoors Editor Abby Lowell at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 523-2271.