Lena Point trail offers views, history

Posted: Sunday, April 27, 2003

Starting in 1990, volunteers from the Juneau Gastineau Rotary Club took on development of the Lena Point Natural Area Park and Trail as a community service project.

The city received title to this federal property June 10, 1994. At that time, wildlife, local kids and others used a shoreline trail to the point, and the Taku Conservation Society's trail crew and volunteers made a few improvements soon after the property was acquired. Now, it is a quiet natural area in urban Juneau and well-used by the neighborhood.

Point Lena Park is about 30 acres of forested land off Point Lena Loop Road. The vegetation is mostly a spruce and hemlock forest with blueberry patches in the sunny areas and wildflowers especially plentiful at the point. The elevation ranges from sea level at Lena Cove and the shoreline at Favorite Channel to a height of approximately 200 feet at a cedar grove on the ridgeline. The park is bounded on the east by some wetlands adjacent to Point Lena Loop Road and on the south by a former rock quarry, which will be developed into a marine research facility by National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and University of Alaska Fairbanks' School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences.

The poorly marked trailhead is on the Point Lena Loop Road, just downhill from the entrance into the old quarry. After passing a couple of hundred yards through wetlands and across a construction road, the trail starts a loop.

Taking the trail to the right, you follow the shoreline of Lena Cove, which has quiet tree-shaded areas sheltered from southeast winds, making it an idyllic setting for picnics. At a high point along the trail climbing out of Lena Cove, there is a tree with an eagle's nest, which has fledglings every spring. The trail goes within 50 feet of the well-marked tree. Don't just look up at the eagles, though, or you'll miss the large colorful slugs that can be seen in shady forested areas here and hardly anywhere else in the Juneau area.

During the late summer, the trail is well-used by fishermen, because it is a great place to shore-cast for cohos.

The trail climbs up to hillside point with a beautiful view of Favorite Passage and a perfect vantage point for spotting whales and sea lions swimming below. The trail continues back into the trees and eventually loops back to the road. Before returning, though, take a spur trail that heads up the hill onto the ridge amongst wind-blown cedars, where there are dramatic views south to Admiralty Island and north to the snowy Chilkat Mountains.

In the early morning hours of Sept. 7, 1952, the 352-foot ship Princess Kathleen sailed into the rocks off Lena Point, going 9 knots. All 307 passengers and 80 crew members managed to climb ashore. The next afternoon, the ship slid stern-first off the rocks. She now lies on her port side, with the bow only 45 feet below the surface and the stern about 145 feet.

This wreck has become a popular scuba diving site and is owned and managed by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. At the inquest into the ship's sinking, a company spokesman was quoted as saying, "Radar is turned on whenever the officer in charge deems it necessary. In this case it apparently was not deemed necessary."

Over the dozen years since the Juneau Gastineau Rotary Club pioneered the new trail, its volunteers helped lay out the trail, installed planking in the wetlands areas, and cleared vegetation. It took two weekends of work to construct a quaint log bridge over a small ravine. The trail to the hilltop is jokingly called "hypothermia ridge," because of conditions volunteers encountered while building it.

The club has plans to continue developing the trail, especially in wet portions and steep areas, where stairs will be constructed. At the point, visual and descriptive display panels are planned, with photos of the Princess Kathleen on the rocks. Perhaps the actual scar from the mishap can be found and recorded.

Using care to protect the flowers and other vegetation, benches and tables will be located far enough back in the trees so as not to be visible to passing watercraft, while still affording views of the channel and mountains.

Parking along Point Lena Loop Road is limited, but the fisheries center development plan includes provision of a trailhead parking area on their property. When construction is completed, employees at the research facility are expected to use the adjacent park at lunchtime, especially the ridge. The Rotary Club plans to install picnic benches in areas at the top of the nearby ridge.

The Lena Point Park and Trail is one of the park projects the Juneau Gastineau Rotary Club has provided for the enjoyment of Juneau's citizens. Two other Rotary Clubs also have developed parks in Juneau as part of the organization's ongoing commitment to community service.

Ron Hansen is a member of the Gastineau Rotary Club. On the Trails is provided by Trail Mix, a nonprofit trails maintenance and construction group on the Web at www.juneautrails.org/.

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