Juneau boasts world-class trail system

Posted: Sunday, June 26, 2005

For a city where roads don't offer many places to drive, Juneau has plenty of places for people to walk, run, bicycle and - when the ground is buried under snow - even cross-country ski and snowmobile.

"Trails are an important part of why many of us live here," said James King, executive director of Trail Mix, a nonprofit organization that brings volunteers together with local, state and federal agencies to develop and maintain Juneau's trails.

"Juneau's trails are world class," said Paul Zahaski, who oversees operations of state parks in Juneau.

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For more on local trails, check out www.juneautrails.org.

Trails provide easy access to mining history as well as different aspects of nature, he said. And there's quantity as well as quality.

"You couldn't do it in a summer if you tried," he said.

King pointed to the excitement of being able to get out and walk in the rain forest, but that is only part of it, he said. People can walk in a huge tidal area, and among lakes, rivers, glaciers, and up mountain trails.

"Having it all so close is really a wonderful treat," King said.

Early Juneau had a lot of old mining roads that have become recreational trails, King said. Juneau's first road is now one of its most popular trails: the three-mile Perseverance Trail, suitable for jogging and bicycling.

But people find new places to walk. King said one major project recently completed is a trail linking the National Guard facility at the University of Alaska Southeast campus to Auke Bay Elementary School.

The cooperation between the different governments that makes the trails appear as a single system is unique, he added.

Trail Mix was created out of that cooperation, Zahaski said. Trails under the jurisdiction of the city Parks and Recreation Department, Alaska State Parks and the U.S. Forest Service can be managed as a single system, King explained.

It began as a group of volunteers in 1993 and was chosen for its current role in 1997.

That role is particularly important in Juneau, Trail Mix President Alice Rarig said, "for the trails we maintain and the potential trails. There are many that go from city to state to forest system land."

Rarig said Trail Mix also serves as a way for the public to participate in making their community better.

"It's about how to be safe and enjoy the outdoors," she said.

"We're nonprofit," King said. "We don't have the power to do anything."

But Trail Mix does have the power to secure volunteers, donations and grants.

One current grant is being used for work at the Point Bridget Trail near the end of Glacier Highway, Zahaski said.

A recently completed project is the re-route of the Mount Juneau Trail, which eliminated probably the most dangerous places for people hiking in Juneau, King said.

Volunteers also finished clearing two trails of brush this spring, he said.

Zahaski said Perseverance Trail gets a lot of use from tourists and cruise ship passengers as well as residents.

It doesn't take much encouragement for local residents to use a trail out in the wilderness, Zahaski said.

Hikers show up not long after workers mark the route with flags. Next, comes the chain-saw stage to eliminate branches, creating a track.

"It's really a small road," he said, although it may be only two or three feet wide.

As trails become more popular, they wear down and develop mudholes, Zahaski added.

"Because of constant use, many need repairs or upgrading," he said.

And there is diversity of trails, King said.

"You have to have diversity. You have to have 8- to 10-foot-wide pathways, and the 5-foot-wide gravel trails where you can walk side-by-side and talk. We have big demand for the narrow trails."

Some people like trails on which they can ride bicycles and others want a mountain-biking challenge, he added.

In the end, trails contribute to the health of the community, King said. They provide a place where people become more sociable and become part of the community, as well as improving their own health and piece of mind.

"We're an island of civilization in a wilderness," King said. "It's exciting to have so much access to it."

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