Amalga Trail leads to Eagle Glacier

History and nature mix along trail built for and by miners in the early 1900s

Posted: Sunday, June 30, 2002

The Amalga Trailhead is at mile 27.9 Glacier Highway.

A new trailhead parking lot is just across the Eagle River Bridge on the right side of the highway. It is 5 1/2 hiking miles to the Eagle Glacier Cabin, where there is a beautiful view of Eagle Glacier just across the lake. Although the trail only gains 300 feet in elevation, it is a long walk, especially with children.

Parts of the trail are in great shape with a relatively smooth gravel surface, while other parts are muddy with many roots and rocks in the tread making an uneven walking surface. A trail leads from the cabin two miles to the gravel bars in front of the glacier. This route follows along the lake, and then up the rocks, which can be precarious, to a spot overlooking Eagle Glacier before descending to the gravel bar.

The beginning of the trail goes through beautiful old-growth forest. A little less than half a mile from the trailhead, look on the river side of the trail for a giant spruce tree that measures 12 feet, 2 inches around at the top of the bulge on the bottom of the trunk. Further along, the trail follows a series of beaver dams where beavers, ducks, bears, eagles, fish and other wildlife often can be seen.

The U.S. Forest Service public-use log cabin is on a beautiful lake with the Eagle Glacier and spectacular mountains filling the view. The cabin was purchased and built by volunteers. Taku Conservation Society's Judy Cooper, during the fall of 1991, organized volunteers and worked with the Forest Service and others to complete this cabin. It was dedicated in memory of Cooper's parents and then donated to the Forest Service for a public-use cabin, open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day and available for rental for the night. For cabin reservation information, check with the Forest Service on Old Dairy Road or call 586-8800.

The old Amalga Trail was built for and by miners during the early part of the 20th century. The old iron rails that can still be seen along parts of the trail are from the old horse tram used to carry ore and supplies to and from the mine. The original trail started near Amalga Harbor and led to Amalga, a small town at the Eagle River Mine not far from Eagle Glacier. The mine was established in 1902 by L.O. Sandstone and Neil Ward after they accidentally found gold-bearing quartz pebbles in the roots of an uprooted tree.

Bart Thane was the first Eagle River Mine superintendent. He later developed the large Alaska-Gastineau mining operation in Thane. The year 1909 was the best for the Eagle River Mine, with 20 stamps in operation, and 50 mill workers and some families living at the town of Amalga. The mill operated off and on until World War I brought the mine to complete closure. Salvaging of the properties was completed in 1923.

During the life of its operation the Eagle River Mine moved 74,876 tons of ore with a gross value of $445,138. Today it is difficult if not impossible to find even a small remnant of this once-thriving town and mine.

Mary Lou King is author of "90 Short Walks Around Juneau." On the Trails is written by members of Trail Mix, a nonprofit trails organization.

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