Eagle Harbor Trail to be dedicated June 2

Route passes through vanished history, offers easy mud-season hike

Posted: Sunday, May 27, 2007

For a few years in the early part of the 1900s, the quiet little cove of Eagle Harbor was a busy place. It was the start of a pioneer road and tram system that served the tiny settlement of Amalga and the Eagle River mine, not far from Eagle Glacier.

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It is about seven miles from the beach to the mine. Boats could dock here to unload supplies and people and presumably load on takings from the mine.

Recently, Trail Mix, in collaboration with the CBJ and State Parks, completed work on the Eagle Harbor trail. This short (about 23 mile) and easy trail leads from the SAGA lodge over a low ridge to Eagle Harbor.

Cross the creek behind the lodge and follow the gravel pathway to the right and up the ridge. The gravel track is wide and the grade is gentle. No mud holes. No slimy roots. A nice stroll.

As you approach the beach, the improved trail splits. The left branch goes directly to the beach. The right branch continues along the old horse tram route down to the other end of the beach, near a tiny creek.

In the mining days, there were two ways to get from the beach to Amalga. The horse tram came up the ridge from the beach, descended gradually along the east side of the ridge to the head of SAGA meadow, and went over the low divide that separates that meadow from the trail to the Boy Scout camp.

At the top of the ridge, where the new trail joins the old horse tram route down to the rocky beach, you can see the log rails that supported the tram just beside the new trail.

A haul road left the beach on the other side of the tiny creek, found its way up the hill and along the west side of the ridge. It joined the horse tram route near the low divide. This road was shorter but steeper than the tram route, so it was used for foot traffic and smaller loads.

The cove is a popular loafing place for ducks. There may be harlequin ducks on the rocky points unless they have gone up the rivers to nest.

Since female harlequins rear the ducklings without male assistance, sometimes the post-breeding males gather again along the shores. In some seasons, groups of mergansers and goldeneye ducks rest here.

As you go over the bridge beyond the lodge, look for ambitious, early-flowering wild iris, chocolate lilies, and buttercups in the meadow. These were just emerging from the cold ground in mid-May this year. I saw plentiful sign that Canada geese had used the meadow extensively, and I found a pair of watchful geese there.

I am guessing that they will nest nearby - the resident Canada geese typically nest in forest.

Most of the forest near the trail is second-growth, so there is very little fern-leaf goldthread, but I found a few clones of this curious plant in flower.

This gender-bender species often produces flowers that are male (pollen-producing) only, but occasionally the same individual produces hermaphroditic flowers, with both male and female parts. By early June, young fruits, in the characteristic whirligig shape, may be developing from the hermaphroditic flowers.

There is plenty of five-leaf bramble or trailing raspberry along the trail, growing close to the ground. Like regular raspberries, the fruit is red, but the berries are very small, consisting of only one to three of the tiny, seed-containing "blebs" instead of the dozens that comprise regular raspberries.

The seeds of this species are dispersed by birds and mammals, so it probably gets around better than fern-leaf goldthread.

Trail Mix, with CBJ and State Parks, will celebrate National Trails Day at 9:30 a.m. on June 2 with the official dedication of the new trail. The public is welcome.

Drive out the road past Peterson Creek and the new milepost 24. Turn west on Amalga Road, go about 500 feet, then turn right on the dirt road to the SAGA lodge.

Parking is available near the lodge, on CBJ property. Some volunteers may do a little trail maintenance work, so bring gloves and safety glasses if you want to participate.

Guides may offer history and natural history walks. Light refreshments will be provided.

• Mary F. Willson is a retired professor of ecology and a Trail Mix board member.

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