Trail users seek path to icefield

Posted: Sunday, April 06, 2008

Snowmachiners, hikers and skiers are invited Tuesday evening to discuss a possible multi-use trail in Lemon Creek that would lead up to the meadows below Blackerby Ridge, perhaps all the way to the Juneau Icefield.

"You could ski to Canada," said George Schaaf, executive director of Trail Mix. The local trail-building nonprofit would likely build the trail if it is approved by local users and agencies.

Trail users also could ride a snowmobile to Atlin, British Columbia, said Ray Howard, president of the Juneau Snowmobile Club and part of the Alpine Working Group.

"It would be something that a lot of folks in the community could really utilize," he said.

The Alpine Working Group came up with the idea for the trail and is organizing discussion. The group is a mix of those who enjoy snow with or without engines, and was formed partly to resolve traditional disputes between those users.

Lemon Creek is one of two areas the group came up with for potential multi-use trails; the other is Bessie Creek.

The one- to two-mile trail would start behind Costco from the back of the city's new gravel pit, at around 600 feet elevation, Schaaf said. From the knob on the southeast side of Lemon Creek, the trail would switch back and forth along the north side of Blackerby Ridge and empty out at a meadow about 2,100 feet above sea level.

Snowmobilers could get to the icefield in about an hour, estimated Howard.

Pros of the trail: It starts in an industrial area and doesn't abut residential areas. The area has some muskeg but little other wetland so that permitting and construction might be easier and fewer environmental impacts could be expected, Schaaf said.

Snowmobiles would only be allowed with plenty of snow to protect the ground, Howard said.

"I want everybody out there on both sides," Schaaf said.

"It would definitely bring some relief to that battle between backcountry skiers and snowmachiners," said Ray Imel, a backcountry skier who has also worked with snowmachiners to groom Nordic ski trails.

"It's paradise - the biggest playground in Alaska," said skier Andy Romanoff. "All the little mundane details of life, they seem so trivial when you're up in a place like that."

But getting there nowadays is a job only for the truly hardy, such as the glacier scientists who work in the remote Camp 17, past Cairn Peak on the way to the Juneau Icefield from Lemon Creek.

"It's a miserable, wretched hike, an all-day affair," said Imel, who once turned back after crawling hand over foot through the brush.

• Contact reporter Kate Goldenat 523-2276 or e-mail

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