For almost 70 years, people have been exploring the outdoors and learning about nature at a camp in the woods near Eagle River.
Soon, more people will be able to get to the George Parks Eagle River Scout Camp, named after a territorial governor, and a nearby beach and point that are popular with hikers.
Scout officials say a $114,000 grant from the Rasmuson Foundation, plus local donations and volunteer efforts, will make it easier for disabled people, supplies and emergency crews to make it across the uneven, often muddy trail into the camp, about 28 miles northwest of downtown Juneau.
The camp already is used for programs by Boy and Girl Scouts, church groups, high school football players and university students, said Lane Stumme, Boy Scout executive director.
And more could happen, said John Pratt of Americorps and Scout camp program director.
"If we can use the camp all year round, that means more money in the program and that will help Scouts all around Southeast," Pratt said.
The camp began in the 1930s when the Scouts got permission to use what was then federal land near the south bank of Eagle River. In the days before Egan Drive, the Auke Bay bypass, smooth roads and fast cars, it was quite the wilderness experience.
"We've had a foot trail into camp as long as anybody remembers," said Stumme. "At different times in history, we've had a bridge over the river."
In 1967, an Army National Guard engineering company moved into the camp, made some repairs and built a wooden trestle bridge across the river to Eagle Beach.
"What they wanted was access in the short term so they could get concrete trucks in there so they could pour foundations for their new buildings," said Sandy Williams, company commander. "The Boy Scouts did not want permanent access. ... They wanted to maintain the atmosphere there of a hike into the woods."
The bridge, built with lumber donated by Southeast mills, stood for about three years until spring floods brought debris down the river and took out the structure. Some of the pilings, trunks from trees cut from nearby hillsides, still stand in the river.
Trees also were cut to fill in the trail to the camp, laid side by side in the mud in the style called "corduroy."
Over the years, the camp and trail, which at one point could be driven, were renovated and repaired. Use expanded to hikers, mountain-bikers, bird-watchers, fishermen and dog-walkers with no connection to the camp.
The most recent trail effort, about 10 years ago, included new logs and planks in places, including a lengthy bridge covered with fabric and gravel.
Some of that work is broken or falling apart from weather, rot and heavy use, including horseback riding, said Scout executive board member Bob Green, pointing to a hoof-sized hole in the planking during a trail inspection last week.
Most of the old wood will be torn up during the trail renovation project, said James King, director of the nonprofit group Trail Mix, which will do much of the repairs.
"My approach is to get rid of as much of it as you can to prevent settling," King said.
In other areas, trail reconstruction will deal with clogged ditches and fallen trees.
"It's always moving, always changing," Green said.
Large rocks reach into and protrude up from some stretches of the trail, but no blasting is planned. King said a device that uses pressurized water to blast boulders will do the job.
Salmon protection is also an issue. A sagging bridge over an anadromous creek may be replaced with a large or bottomless culvert to allow spawners in and fry out, King said.
Leveling and widening uneven and narrow parts of the trail will improve accessibility for the disabled, although that probably means rides in a narrow vehicle since the surface won't be paved, Stumme said.
"A sport wheelchair could go in and have a good time," he said.
The new trail also will allow for easier transportation of food and other supplies, Stumme said.
"Right now we either have to take them in by boat or haul them in by helicopter and when the weather is bad, both seemed to be equally unfeasible," he said.
A third use for the trail will be during emergencies.
"It's a pretty hefty hike to bring somebody out of camp if something happens," Stumme said.
Greater accessibility could hurt as well as help the camp by making it easier for partiers and vandals to get there, said Ken Cassell of the Boy Scout board.
"We have had some vandalism," he said. "But if you have more people out here, you have more eyes, so it works in both directions."
Signs directing the public away from Scout cabins will help keep an expected increased number of hikers from overrunning the camp, King said. Improving the trail to a nearby point and beach, plus a pit toilet in the wooded area by the point, would help.
"We're not going to stop it so let's control it," said Stumme, standing at a fork in the trail where one path heads to the camp and another to the beach.
Work to improve the trail should begin by the fall.
Most of the trail repair money comes from the Anchorage-based Rasmuson Foundation, including an outright gift of $80,000 plus a $34,000 challenge grant that must be matched, said foundation Program Officer Helen Howarth.
Stumme said the Scouts need to raise the matching funds, which can include in-kind donations of labor and supplies from corporations, community members and businesses.
"If I can find somebody who would donate 1,800 yards of gravel, we'd be really happy people," he said.
Ed Schoenfeld can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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