Treadwell Ditch Trail may have a reputation for darkness, but Marc Scholten is the man letting in the light.
On a recent day, as we walked the trail from its Gastineau Meadows access point to Paris Creek, the trail was dappled with sun. If it had been winter, it would have been more than dappled with snow. Another benefit of the tree-trimming he’s done — one of which Scholten, an avid skier, is quite aware — is better snow cover.
Over the last few years, Treadwell has been getting quite a few upgrades from Trail Mix, Inc., a local nonprofit aimed at keeping Juneau’s trails user friendly. Scholten, recently retired from the Forest Service, was Trail Mix’s 2013 volunteer of the year. He’s spent hundreds of hours working on the trail and has seen a resulting “exponential” increase in usage.
Scholten grew up in South Dakota and first came to Southeast Alaska as a cartographer, but with the brief, high-altitude exception of a six-week stint studying the advance of the Hubbard Glacier, near Yakutat, his years in that job were in an office.
“I just always wanted to spend more time in the woods,” he said.
So he went to the University of Montana, got qualified as a forester, and became a recreation forester with the Juneau Ranger District. He retired three years ago, after 34 years of federal service all together.
“Working out of the district was great. I’ve just always been an outdoors person,” he said. “(Working at) a desk inside was difficult at times, especially on a sunny day.”
First, he completed mining surveys and special use permits with the district. Later, he worked with cabins and public use area management, which he described as “an all-consuming job.”
“You can’t keep up with it,” he said. “People here in Juneau really love their national forest and their recreation use … and you have to contend with all the vandalism and all the trash.”
Law enforcement, tree cutting, environmental assessment, toilet cleaning — he did it all. For the last three years of his job, he managed Juneau Ranger District trails.
He volunteered on trails even before retiring, and both his personal and professional experiences have prepared him well for the work he’s completed with Trail Mix. His years of experience with shrinking budgets have also given him an appreciation for Treadwell as a lower-maintenance, easily accessible trail.
“The trail was essentially developed on top of the spoils pile from all the material that came out of the ditch. And so that’s why it’s such a great, heavy duty, durable (trail),” he said. “(It’s) mostly rock and sediments. That’s just perfect for trails here in Juneau, in a wet and erosive environment.”
The darkness was also something that hindered his appreciation for the trail. But the 20 days Scholten put in last winter with a power brusher, until tennis elbow slowed him down, have made a difference. We stopped at a few access points for views of Mount Jumbo, which Scholten has helped to open, and at one for downtown Juneau and the Gastineau Channel.
A less brushy trail has another advantage: safety.
“It’s good to have the visibility, especially on a multiuse trail like this with hikers and bikers,” Scholten said. “You want to have good visibility so the bikers can slow down.”
Scholten loves to mountain bike, ski and hike.
“It’s just such a great opportunity for Juneau to have a really good trail with quite a small investment money-wise,” he said. “That’s why the ditch has kind of become one of my favorite trails, whereas before I didn’t appreciate it very much.”
Scholten has dug, and regularly clears, dozens of small ditches on the downhill side of the slope. The ditches help prevent the trail from getting muddy.
Trail Mix crews have built and fixed more than 20 bridges along the trail in the last three to four years. In some places, they also put in turnpike — skinned, native trees laid on each side of a gravel-filled trail.
Scholten mines naturally occurring gravel from streams and what washes down into the ditch, and adds to that.
Scholten and friend Jack Kreinheder, Trail Mix’s president, also put hardware cloth on bridges with angular approaches, to help prevent slippage.
Kreinheder and Scholten mountain bike and work on the trail together.
“Treadwell Ditch is kind of his backyard trail,” Kreinheder said. (Scholten lives on South Douglas.)
Scholten keeps track of his volunteer hours — about 268 last year — so that Trail Mix can count them toward match requirements for city and state grants.
Most of Scholten’s work so far has been between Paris Creek and Blueberry Hill.
He wants to start leading volunteer crews, especially as the Forest Service has become more pressed for financial resources in the last few years.
“If we (Scholten and Kreinheder) keep going, maybe by the time we’re 70 we’ll have (the improvements) tied into Eaglecrest,” Scholten said, laughing. “Twelve more years.”
According to the Forest Service’s trail description, the trail is 10.4 miles long where it crosses Forest Service land, but including state and city land the distance is closer to 14 miles.
The three main access points to Treadwell Ditch Trail are at Blueberry Hills, Gastineau Meadows and Eaglecrest’s Nordic Loop.
“Access is the key for almost everything here in Juneau. If you have access, you’ll do it … This is an awesome running trail, it’s an awesome hiking trail and its an awesome riding trail,” Scholten said.
• This story is part of a recurring series on the unsung heroes of the Juneau trails. If you have a trail hero you’d like to suggest, please email us at email@example.com.