JUNEAU — On a clear day near the Mendenhall Glacier, parking lots are packed, dogs run with tongues flapping and crowds of cross country skiers, snowshoers, hikers and bikers can be seen exploring the area trails.
This year, according to officials at the U.S. Forest service, locals had even more to enjoy. Thanks to funds provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or ARRA, an expanded series of trails in the vicinity of the glacier became an interconnected system now more capable of supporting a variety of winter recreation activities.
In other words, users now have more groomed miles to ski. Dog-walkers can explore trails that were previously too dangerous to tread upon during winter months and these loops are mostly open and maintained as conditions warrant — at no charge.
“We modified several access points to trails intersecting with the Dredge Lakes loops and the Powerline and Under the Thunder trails so that groomers and grooming equipment can move (in and out) safely,” said Ed Grossman, Forest Service District Recreation Program Manager. “We took a big machine and placed boulders at these intersections with a chain across, added a reflective signs for safety, and a lock so those doing the grooming can move in and out as needed. (This solution) saves us from modifying the actual trailheads.”
The construction and design of a concrete staircase in October, located a third of a mile south of the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, is another addition to the trail system. The staircase, which sits at the site of an old powerhouse, consists of 24 custom concrete slabs molded on the leading edge to blend in with the natural landscape. It was constructed by Dave Hanna, with the Juneau-based business Alaska Concrete Casting and, according to Grossman, is one of the key ARRA improvements responsible for the increased usability of this area. It also creates a link between the Trail of Time, Powerline, and Under Thunder trails, ultimately connecting these popular, and formerly separate, routes to each other, not to mention a multitude of other trails that wind through public lands in the area.
“I (explored) this trail recently and was pleased to see how much use the stairs are already getting,” Grossman said. “This stairway is the element that ties the whole system together.”
Previously, trying to cross between these trails meant negotiating a steep and treacherous jumble of boulders and slick bedrock, a feat particularly ill-advised during winter months.
Grossman said he had reservations about how the snow would fall and eventually fill the stairway, but so far the stairs are completely passable and still safe for the cautious user.
Completed this fall, the Trail of Time is a new loop constructed, also with ARRA funds, to highlight both the beauty of the Tongass National Forest, and also the historical relics that still exist in the area.
The enhanced trails system, which includes not only the stairs, but also brushed and resurfaced pathways with improved access points, is especially suited for cross-country skiers, said Grossman.
Crews have already opened the canopy over the Powerline trail to allow for more consistent snow cover and Grossman said volunteer groomers with the Juneau Nordic Ski Club are planning to expand grooming efforts in this area as soon as Mother Nature drops enough snow to do so.
One of those individuals is Jack Kreinheder, who is a Trail Mix board member grooms trails for the JNSC and the Juneau Snowmobile Club.
“Having longer, continuous stretches of wide trails makes grooming (for classic and skate skiing) worthwhile,” he said.
“The level and quality of winter recreation on the trails on the east side of Mendenhall Lake simply was not possible before all the ARRA-funded improvements,” Grossman said.
Hence, when combined with the CBJ-managed Under the Thunder trail, a mile of trail with grooming potential has been added to the system.
Volunteer grooming has also been occurring as conditions warrant in the Dredge Lakes Area and, as usual, at the Mendenhall Campground.
For updates on conditions and grooming efforts go online to jnski.org.