Rarig, city trail praised

Trail Mix president named nationwide volunteer of the year

Posted: Sunday, June 05, 2005

Just because Saturday was a day for Juneau trail supporters to celebrate their successes was no reason not to work too.

A pile of axes and a chain saw at the Perseverance trail head at Basin Road awaited volunteer and paid workers as Alice Rarig, president of the board of Trail Mix, was honored as the nationwide Volunteer of the Year by the American Hiking Society.

Trail Mix is a local nonprofit organization that helps plan and improve trails and resolve conflicts among user groups.

In 2004, it had a budget of nearly $300,000, coordinated 2,000 hours of volunteer work, employed 23 people, and completed improvements on 23 miles of trail, group officials said.

The ceremony also marked the designation Friday by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton of Perseverance Trail as one of roughly 900 national recreation trails.

Trail Mix Executive Director James King took the opportunity, before the crowd of 75, to formally mark completion of improvements on the upper part of the historic gold-miners' trail. Saturday was National Trails Day as well.

"Over the years it's had its challenges," King said of the trail. "As all you know who have hiked it, it's on the verge of falling down the cliff in some places."

But workers have reconstructed it in places, rebuilt a bridge that washed away, and opened side trails, he said.

Staff at the American Hiking Society chose Rarig for the national honor "overwhelmingly," Shirley Hearn, the organization's volunteer programs manager, said by phone from Silver Spring, Md.

King presented Rarig with the society's gifts of a pair of hiking socks, a compass with a light - "I guess you can attach that to your socks" - a T-shirt with a message ("Not all that wander are lost"), an Alaska hikers guide, and a plaque.

In exchange, Rarig gave King a mock check for $500, representing the society's gift to Trail Mix on Rarig's behalf.

Theresa Walden, who manages the nature center atop Mount Roberts for Gastineau Guiding, gave Rarig flowering plants in a pot shaped like boots.

Rarig topped the nine nominees for the Western region, and was chosen from the nine regional winners, based on information provided by the nominating organizations, Hearn said.

Trail Mix, in its nomination, credited Rarig with leading a citizen and agency group that updated the commercial use of trails. She helped develop a green-zone agreement for Amalga Meadows to Eagle Beach, and co-founded the Mount Roberts Stewards to manage trail users in the fragile alpine environment after the tramway was built.

Hundreds of miles of trails in Juneau have been improved during Rarig's five years as board president, the nomination said.

"She put a lot of time into it," King said in an interview. "She's very passionate about trails and the community and parks, and she's worked hard to improve them for others."

Rarig, in an interview, said she moved to Juneau in the spring of 1997, just in time for an unusually sunny summer.

She came here to marry Greg Williams, the state demographer. Rarig is a state health planner, but she had been the state demographer in Massachusetts and met Williams through their work.

Rarig grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania. Educated in New England, she had hiked in New Hampshire's White Mountains and later in Kentucky, and remembers particularly the wildflowers.

It was natural for her to climb Mount Roberts, learn about Trail Mix, and become involved in trail work, she said.

"I've seen how much damage can be done by overuse," she said.

The biggest threat to Juneau trails is hikers compacting the soil - which prevents native plants from growing - as their steps widen the trails, Rarig said.

Managing trails involves defining the trails and asking off-trail users "to be like a deer, to wander and not to backtrack and not to go over the same steps," she said.

Educating trail users has been important to Rarig. Trail Mix has helped prepare guides and maps with information about wisely using trails, a trail-etiquette brochure for tourists, and a trail-safety video.

• Eric Fry can be reached at eric.fry@juneauempire.com.

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