Peterson Lake Trail to get long-overdue makeover

Posted: Friday, March 12, 2010

Planned improvements at one of the area's most popular trails mean hikers will no longer show up to the Peterson Lake cabin looking like they've been in a rugby match.

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Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

U.S. Forest Service officials say they've heard dozens of complaints for at least two years about the state of the trail. Now they're going to do something about it while preserving local mining history at the same time.

The Peterson Lake trailhead, at mile 24 on Glacier Highway, leads to good fishing and one of the Juneau Ranger District's most popular backcountry cabins.

The trail has been overdue for maintenance for several years, Trails Field Operations Supervisor Peter Cross said.

"There are spots where you're hiking in mud up to your knees," Cross said.

Cross likes his work with the U.S. Forest Service building and repairing trails so that people can get to places they normally wouldn't try to find. In the case of Peterson Lake, the experience isn't stellar and he's anxious to fix it, he said.

Lack of funding has been part of the reason some of Juneau's trails have not been maintained but the wet climate also creates a challenge. Water is a great trail destroyer.

"It's a huge force and trying to control it is like trying to butter both sides of the bread at the same time," Cross said.

The trail is also used by sport fishermen who fish Peterson Creek and Peterson Lake for steelhead and rainbow trout.

Property at the trailhead is owned by the state Department of Fish and Game, which will pay for a portion of this summer's improvements with grant funds from the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act, also known as the Dingell-Johnson Act. Money comes from federal taxes on sport fishing tackle and gear.

Southeast Alaska Guidance Association, a youth work and leadership program known as SAGA, will help build and fix the trail.

The crew will replace a set of stairs - sometimes nearly encased in ice - at the trail start with a gently sloping path made with locally gathered rocks and gravel.

The new trail will climb over an old tram route historically used to transport ore from the Peterson mine.

Archaeologist Nicole Lantz will inventory the trail this summer for the Forest Service in an effort to determine if it is eligible for the National Historic Register.

The trail, lake, cabin and mine are named for John Peterson, who homesteaded the property across the highway at Pearl Harbor, now run as an arboretum by the city.

Peterson started the placer gold mine in 1900. It produced 211 ounces of gold and eight ounces of silver over more than two decades.

Peterson leased the mine to Alaska Consolidated Mines, which built wooden plank trails and the surface tram. Horses or mules were used to pull carts of ore along, Lantz said.

After Peterson died in 1916, his daughters, Irma and Margaret, continued to operate the mine until 1923.

The trail continued to be used for fishing access and become more popular when, in the 1980s, the Forest Service built the Peterson Lake cabin across the lake from the mine.

The recreational trail diverges from the historic mining trail about halfway into the forest, Lantz said.

Work on the first quarter-mile of trail is scheduled to begin in July.

• Contact reporter Kim Marquis at 523-2279 or

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