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This can be a great time to get outdoors and make the most of the short winter days. Warm weather in winter may not be good for the snowpack, but it is excellent for hiking in the woods and along the beach. Last weekend most of the ice was gone at the lower elevations. The Southeast Alaska forest can be almost impenetrable in places in the summer but really opens up in the winter.
A short-eared owl spent hours hunting along the Airport Dike Trail near the trailhead earlier this week, and birders say it's not an uncommon sight. Swooping low above the grass, the hawk-like owl worked the margins of the river within easy view of the trail throughout the afternoon. He even perched on the airport fence next to the trail, unnoticed by a crowd of dog-walkers wrangling with their pets.
The Dupont Trail at the end of Thane Road was in excellent shape this week, ice-free and accessible. Dippers, or water ouzels, worked the streams and the channel is teeming with waterfowl.
At elevations higher up, along the trail to John Muir Cabin and Spaulding Meadows, the entire landscape is paved with Southeast cement. This is a bulletproof ice surface that cross-country skis chatter across without leaving a mark.
There are a couple of options for people who want to get outdoors this winter and who would appreciate a little guidance. The Juneau Alpine Club, an informal group of outdoor enthusiasts, gets out at least once a week and new folks are welcome to join. Club members lead the trips, which range from casual hikes to technical climbs.
"We take turns leading," said Kathy Landry, who has been active in the club most of her life. "Anyone is welcome and there are all levels. A lot of what we do is just hiking."
Her parents, Barb and Kim Turley, are the founders of the Alpine Club and host the monthly meetings. The next meeting is 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Turley home. Call 789-7058, or e-mail email@example.com, for more information and a complete schedule of hikes and events.
Trips range from multi-day cross-country ski traverses to day-long ascents of peaks such as Mount McGinnis. There's also ice climbing on local waterfalls, when frozen, and climbing at the Rock Dump. Turley said there is a Juneau Sub-Alpine Club starting up to focus more on hiking.
"There are a lot more activities going on," Landry said. "Members call each other and go out hiking. It's a good way to meet other hikers or climbers."
The Juneau Parks and Recreation Department also offers guided hikes twice a week. A variety of different people lead, and the leader plans the trip a few days in advance, based on weather and trail conditions. The hikes start about 9:30 a.m. every Wednesday and Saturday, and hikers meet at the trailheads. Check the Parks and Recreation Web site at www.juneau.org/parksrec for information, or call the 24-hour message line at 586-0428.
The hikes on Wednesdays are for adults only. Kids are welcome on the Saturday hikes but need to be accompanied by a parent. Hikers meet at the trailhead. Don't bring dogs or guns; do bring warm clothes, food and water and hiking paraphernalia such as binoculars.
Armchair adventurers can hike, scuba dive, get close to brown bears and travel to Asia courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service Fireside Program Series. The annual series starts Friday with "Buddhism in the East - People and Temples." Linda Buckley will show slides and talk about her experiences in Buddhist countries from 7:30 to 9 p.m. at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center. For a complete schedule see the article here in "This Week."
Several art shows are in the works. Photographer David Job opens an exhibit Friday at the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council gallery. He's featuring color photographs and cyanotypes, an interesting custom photo process. An avid kayaker, hiker and beachcomber, Job has focused on the tide line for this show. The "Intertidal Art Show" opens with a reception from 4:30 to 6:30 Friday.
The Decker Gallery has an exhibit of landscape paintings by Haines artist Gil Smith. Smith, who died last year, was an accomplished oil painter and watercolorist. He also worked in pastels.
The 13 paintings in the show are in the private collection of Elton Engstrom and are not for sale. Most are landscapes of the Haines area and the Chilkat River, ranging from 1956 to the 1980s. Smith was masterful with light and color and the paintings are beautiful. The gallery is near the Glory Hole on South Franklin Street.
Finally, there's "Found and Assembled in Alaska," the art exhibit at the Alaska State Museum. It's an inspiring show of contemporary sculptures made from found objects. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.