King of the trail helps preserve Juneau's paths

Juneau color

Posted: Friday, March 31, 2000

James King was hiking before he could even walk well.

He was probably no more than 1 or 2 when his parents started toting him along on trips. ``I remember carrying him lots of places in a backpack and passing up little rocks to him, so he could throw them in the water,'' said his father, Jim King.

James King doesn't remember being packed around. His first hiking memory was a few years later on Perseverance Trail.

``What I remember was getting very tired and having my father cut a piece of alder with some leaves on the end, and it became my horse,'' he said. His weariness disappeared as he romped the rest of the way down the trail on that horse.

``Mom and Dad were good at making it fun,'' King said. ``That's probably why I still enjoy it so much.''

Those early experiences put King on a path that eventually led to his current job, executive director of Trail Mix.

Trail Mix is a nonprofit agency charged with bringing together state, federal, city, business and volunteer resources to maintain and improve Juneau's trail system.

King's father is a retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, and his mother, Mary Lou King, is a ``professional volunteer'' who has been active for years in Taku Conservation Society, he said. She is the author of ``90 Short Walks Around Juneau.''

The younger King did his first paid trail work in high school for Taku Conservation. He continued working on trails in Juneau in the summers during and after high school, working at various times for Southeast Alaska Guidance Association and the U.S. Forest Service.

He explored several career paths after high school, including a year as a ``ski bum,'' before settling into a recreation resource management program at the University of Montana, where he finished his bachelor's degree.

He went to graduate school at North Carolina State in Raleigh, where he studied landscape architecture and planning. His final project for his master's degree was a document, completed with a fellow student, called: ``Juneau Greenway Design and Computer Technology in the Design Process.''

It is a vision for a Juneau ``greenway'' system, in which trails separated from the road system pass near all neighborhoods and connect with one another.

King and his family returned to Juneau in 1997, deciding ``the quietness of Juneau was a pretty wonderful life as opposed to the hustle bustle of the East,'' he said.

The city hired him to write the Juneau Non-Motorized Transportation Plan. After that, he oversaw construction of the skateboard park in the Mendenhall Valley.

In 1998 King became the first paid director of Trail Mix, which in 1997 had moved from a strictly volunteer group that did trail work on the weekends to an organization with a paid staff and a charge to coordinate efforts among multiple agencies and groups.

King oversees a staff of one trail crew foreman and a part-time office manager year-round. In the summer his staff grows to include several trail crew members.

He still actually works on the trails, but spends more time in the office on tasks such as administering grants, filling out permit applications and, of course, going to meetings.

The group represents all types of trail users from snowmachiners to cross-country skiers to mountain bikers, so balancing conflicting priorities is part of the job. Neighbors who will be affected by the group's projects also have to be included in the process.

``We can have some pretty lively meetings,'' King said.

The nice thing about the job is seeing people enjoy the fruits of Trail Mix's work, he said. Last year the group worked on 18 trails, from relatively simple projects such as clearing brush on Sheep Creek Trail to more ambitious jobs such as building Bear Creek Trail, 1.2 miles of new path off Perseverance.

``It's been a very rewarding job,'' he said.

There are more than 120 trails or short walks in Juneau, from daylong rigorous mountain hikes to 20- to 30-foot-long beach access trails. King said he's been on most, if not all, of them. Picking a favorite is tough, but Outer Point probably tops the list, he said.

Back in the early 1980s, he helped put in the first planking for Outer Point and made a sign for the trail. Although the trail has been re-planked to make it wider, his original stairs leading down to the beach remain.

It's a great trail, he said, short enough that it's an easy walk for people of all ages, but with much diversity from old growth forest to muskeg to beach.

Nowadays he hikes it with his wife, Chris, and their children, Keyaira, 5, and Brittney, 2. It's a very good trail for kids, he said.

``They love to get on that boardwalk and go trucking around.''

The Kings may be raising future stewards of Juneau's trails. The family, including the children, hiked 2 miles to camp at the Cowee Meadow Cabin near Berners Bay this winter.

``They both made it all the way without being carried and all the way back,'' King said.

When the kids get tired, he uses the old ``alder horse'' trick, and it works as well with them as it did with him, he said. ``It's amazing how a little stick will entertain a kid.''

``They both love to hike,'' he said. ``One of their favorite things to do is go out to that cabin.''

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