Changes for commercial trail users recommended

Public meeting slated for Tuesday at Centennial Hall

Posted: Sunday, March 28, 2004

A Juneau trails group wants to return commercial tours to Outer Point Trail on Douglas Island and restrict such use on other trails.

Tour operators used the wood-planked Outer Point Trail until the nearby Rainforest Trail was built in 2001. Operators want to use the Outer Point Trail once again because it has more interpretation opportunities, members of the city's Trails Working Group said.

The working group is making that and other recommendations, and will take public comments Tuesday evening at Centennial Hall. The meeting starts at 7 p.m.

The proposed recommendations are welcome news to some resident hikers who would rather keep visitors to shorter trails.

Longtime hiker Bob Garrison said he'd rather see commercial operators on the Rainforest and Outer Point trails instead of places such as Spaulding Trail, north of Auke Bay, and Granite Creek Trail, east of Silverbow Basin.

"We need a place where the tourists aren't running over us," Garrison said. "Granite Creek is a special place to many of us."

The working group, formed by the Juneau Assembly in 2000 to address growing commercial use, will recommend rules to the agencies that oversee trails.

"The decision was we should ask the public and see what the response is," said group member James King, who also is executive director of Trail Mix Inc., a nonprofit group that improves trails.

Some avid hikers said they generally do not oppose commercial tours on the two North Douglas trails. Some said they would rather see commercial groups on those trails instead of others. They would oppose any move to open the majority of Juneau's trails for commercial use.

The trails group's recommendation is to close the Outer Point Trail to operators in 2004 while they use the Rainforest Trail. In 2005, operators would be allowed to use the Outer Point Trail but not the Rainforest Trail.

The group has no recommendation for what would happen after 2005. Trails group member Sandy Warner said the public meeting may help dictate that decision.

Hiker Richard Renninger said he could understand why tourists, who may lack hiking experience, would like the two trails. Each is only about a mile long. He opposes different rules for different trails, though.

"The bureaucracy makes it not as much fun," he said.

The trails group also is recommending Granite Creek Trail be closed for commercial use now that Perseverance Trail has been repaired and reopened.

"It's something the local people will see as a positive change," Warner said. "It's a very popular local trail."

Cruise West and Gastineau Guiding Co. are asking to use the Outer Point Trail to conduct guided tours, King said.

"We found there were a couple of things on the older trail (Outer Point) we could use including the muskeg and bog area," said Larry Johansen, Southeast regional manager for Cruise West. The company takes out 600 to 700 visitors per summer season, typically in groups of 10 with one guide, he said.

Outer Point and Rainforest trails, which start at North Douglas Highway, end at a long, rocky beach. The Outer Point Trail winds through a dense forest with moss-covered old-growth trees. Hikers see a beaver pond that flows into a running stream. The trail then opens into an eye-catching field of short, bright green trees sitting on richly brown muskeg.

"It's kind of neat as an interpretive feature," King said. "Folks who are not from Alaska are intrigued by that."

The Rainforest Trail is a hard-packed surface that winds through a more open forest with moss-covered old-growth trees and small streams.

The group will issue its final recommendations in early May.

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