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New valley trail at the hub of it all

Posted: Friday, May 21, 2010

It's been a while in the making, but work on Juneau's newest trail, Under the Thunder, has begun and is set to be completed by late this summer.

The trail was originally intended to be a multi-use pathway used to connect Mendenhall Glacier recreation area with Egan Drive, but Trail Mix Executive Director George Schaaf said it will not only get traffic, but it will also help to preserve the natural resources in the area.

"The project is going to connect some existing trails in the Mendenhall Glacier recreation area to Jennifer Drive in the valley," Schaaf said. "So it will connect several neighborhoods along the eastern side of the Mendenhall valley and provide folks in that part of the valley with a trail."

Schaaf said this project has been in the works for more than six years. He said, even going back to 2001, it was included in some of Juneau's trail plans.

He also said the area where the work has started has already been in use, and these trail improvements will go a long way in preserving the space.

"If you go back there right now, you'll see it's already getting a lot of use," Schaaf said. "There are a lot of social trails back there, and there's also a tremendous amount of garbage that's either been brought there by people or dragged back there by bears that get into the garbage in the neighborhoods."

Because the area is so frequented by outdoor enthusiasts, Schaaf said the work being done on the trail is important for the preservation of natural resources.

"It's already an area that's being heavily used by people," he said. "Without any of these improvements, that usage is resulting in a lot of resource damage.

"It's a really important area because it serves as the headwaters of Jordan and Duck Creek," Schaaf continued. "So we're trying to get more folks outdoors while also protecting the resources in that part of the valley."

He also said this will give people a new, more enjoyable option if they want to get outside and enjoy the summer.

"If you want to ride your bike from Egan Drive out to the visitor center, right now the only non-motorized corridor folks have basically runs along Mendenhall Loop Road. That's really your only choice," Schaaf said. "What this is going to provide folks with is a more natural experience that will be more convenient and a lot closer to a lot of the residential neighborhoods, and it's going to be a great facility for the schools in that area.

"It'll be a great way for them to be able to get into the woods and have an easy point of access into the forest."

Schaaf said the financial contributions from certain organizations have made this, and other projects around the state, possible.

"The funding for the project is coming from the Alaska Trails Initiative, which is a really unique program that brings several million dollars of trail funding to Alaska directly from the Federal Highway Administration," he said. "Senator Murkowski is responsible for that. That money has paid for the improvements to Perseverance Trail, Auke Lake Trail and this project as well, in addition to stuff all over the state."

Schaaf said there are other plans in line this summer after they complete the Under the Thunder Trail project.

"We're starting work right now, and the goal this summer is to complete the gravel trail all the way to the east valley reservoir access road," he said. "And then next year, we'd like to complete a boardwalk system that will hook into the Jennifer Drive boardwalks that are right in that area, and we'll be building three pedestrian bridges as well this year."

• Contact reporter Matthew Tynan at matthew.tynan@juneauempire.com.



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