Just about everyone recognizes what trails have to offer - recreation, adventure, scenery, wildlife, and solitude - and just about everyone has occasion to use them. But do you know what it takes to provide safe, pleasant trails that serve users with diverse needs? It takes good stewardship, and every trail user can be a good steward.
The Juneau area trail system has evolved into a network of more than 90 multi-use trails enjoyed by hikers, snowmobilers, horseback riders, bicyclists, fishermen, runners, dog walkers, and tour operators. All of these users benefit from the efforts of government agencies, politicians, laborers, businesses, and recreation enthusiasts who have cooperated to plan, fund, build and maintain trails for the public good throughout Juneau. It's in everyone's interest to preserve those trails and develop more like them.
So what can you do to be a good steward of trails?
Use good trail etiquette: Being mindful of the "Leave No Trace" principles of outdoor recreation to ensure our trails remain the pleasant, safe places we look forward to using when it's time to get away.
Plan ahead and prepare, travel and camp on durable surfaces, dispose of waste properly, leave what you find, minimize campfire impacts, respect wildlife and be considerate of other visitors.
Participate in trail maintenance: If you're an experienced trail user and can easily spot a trail maintenance problem, you could take along a camp shovel or hand saw the next time you go out and unclog a culvert or remove brush from a blowdown obstructing a trail. If not, you could participate in a work party that is organized to tackle specific problems. Trail Mix, a local nonprofit group (790-6406) works on local trails and sponsors volunteer work parties throughout the summer.
Volunteer work days scheduled for this summer include July 13, Mount Roberts; Aug. 10, Granite Creek; and Sept. 14, Dredge Lakes.
Trail Mix also welcomes volunteer assistance with the daily trail work it supervises throughout the summer. Just give Trail Mix a call to find out where the day's activities will take place.
Participate in planning new trails: Various interest groups will continue to press for trails that meet their needs - and the demand for trails is growing. A Trails Working Group has been instrumental in identifying what trails should be open to use by commercial tour operators and what trails should be off-limits so locals can enjoy their benefits without encountering groups of tourists.
Each year Trail Mix welcomes public input on an update of its Trails Plan, which establishes priorities for the coming year. Some of the ideas that are being considered include the development of an Under Thunder Trail between the Mendenhall Glacier and Egan Highway, the establishment of local SEATrails linking the Alaska Marine Highway System with a network of trails in Southeast communities, and looking into the possibility of a hut-to-hut trail system on Douglas Island. All of these proposals require citizen input and support.
Be an advocate for trails: Without attention being paid to trail conditions, local trails become eroded, overgrown, inundated, unsafe or unsightly. It takes funding for materials and crews to build and maintain trails that provide a quality outdoor experience valued by locals and tourists alike. Most of Juneau's trails are built on public lands, and it takes public funds to provide adequate materials and trail crews.
Make your voice heard when city, state, or federal budgets for trail development and maintenance are threatened because without proper maintenance, weather, heavy usage or abandonment take their toll on the usability and enjoyment of trails. At its monthly board meeting, Trail Mix provides an opportunity for public comment on trail-related issues.
Help educate youth and visitors: Youngsters and visitors may not be accustomed to using trails in respectful and responsible ways because they are not aware of trail etiquette that is appropriate for some of the habitats in Southeast. It may take only a few words of caution to alert them to the effects of treading on vegetation in alpine areas or stepping around muddy areas instead of through them.
The great majority of trail users want to preserve trails in a condition that will please those who come after them. They may just need increased awareness about the Leave No Trace principles or the fragility of some habitats experiencing increased usage.
Good stewardship of trails means locals and visitors can benefit from using trails in a sustainable way and be able to revisit them someday, perhaps with their grandchildren in tow. Get started now by joining Trail Mix, either with a membership or by taking part in an upcoming volunteer day on a local trail.
Lynn Shepard is a board member of Trail Mix, a Juneau-based nonprofit group overseeing trail management and development. This is the first in a series of trail columns by members of Trail Mix.