Preserving Perseverance

Famous trail looking to have major facelift

Posted: Sunday, July 02, 2006

A serious facelift is needed for Perseverance Trail to persevere as one of Juneau's favorite hiking destinations, recreation officials say.

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The historic trail above downtown that leads into the Silverbow Basin has been plagued with landslides and washouts over its long and storied history, Trail Mix Executive Director James King said.

The destruction caused by the washouts has led to hundreds of thousands of dollars in repair and maintenance costs over the last couple of decades, requiring a permanent solution to keep the trail safe and operational for the community. King said the nonprofit trail maintenance group has been working with federal, state and local agencies to create a plan to dynamite certain problem areas of Perseverance Trail to widen the trail into the bedrock.

"We really looked closely at what's the solution," King said. "Blasting, for quite a few reasons, has become the preferred alternative."

He said the group looked at what solution would be the most economically feasible while taking into consideration the history of the area, the safety of hikers, and the need to relieve the redundant repair work.

Southeast Area State Parks Superintendent Mike Eberhardt said the state, which has been managing the trail for years, needed to find a permanent solution to the washouts because they were costing a lot of money to continually repair.

"Washouts are anywhere from $100,000 to $300,000," he said. "The state has easily a million dollars into the maintenance of the trail."

Because the repair costs are so high and because State Parks has so many facilities across Alaska to maintain, Eberhardt said it was difficult to keep earmarking money to maintain the trail. Because of this, a plan was conceived to transfer management of the trail to the city of Juneau when it was learned that Trail Mix had secured a $650,000 grant as part of the Alaska Trails Initiative.

"That was the catalyst because the city wouldn't take over ownership until the trail was brought up to an acceptable standard and the state was unable to come up with the money," Eberhardt said.

Because the trail has a strong connection to the local community, Eberhardt said it is easier for the city to lobby for funds than the state.

City Parks and Landscape Superintendent Bob Grochow said city officials believe it is a trail that should be maintained and preserved for the future.

"Either agency has the capability and know-how to perform the maintenance. It's just an idea that has been discussed between the two agencies and there seems to be some efficiencies that could be found by the city taking over the maintenance of the trail," he said.

King said the project is in the final stages of the permitting process and must still be approved by State Parks and the Federal Highway Administration before construction can begin. He said work would likely begin within a year if the project is approved.

Jim Geraghty, a Trail Mix board member and the group's historian, said the main reason for the trail washouts is the "cribs," or retaining walls, that were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1934 to support the trail on the steep cliff-face above Gold Creek.

"It's 72 years old now and it was built with untreated lumber and it's basically falling apart," he said. "We're going to lose the most popular trail in Juneau if we don't get up there and do something about it."

Geraghty said the trail has played a major role in the development of Juneau because it leads to the area where gold was first located in Alaska by non-Natives.

"There wasn't a whole lot of interest in Alaska until that gold discovery up there," he said.

Geraghty said the trail, which once led to a vast array of mill and gold mining operations, is deteriorating at a significant rate.

"It's past the point where anything can be salvaged from it," he said. "It needs to be brought up to a more modern standard and the standard use the CCC intended it to be. Right now it is falling apart."

King said it is a big project that would require a contractor to do the drilling and blasting and many hours of work by Trail Mix workers to make it safer.

"We're not going to make it perfect," he said. "There will still be that stuff coming from above, and drainages will fail simply because there is a lot of stuff coming down. We're going to improve it. We're going to make it better than it is now."

Grochow said the trail should be fixed now before costs go up or another landslide occurs, bringing more destruction.

"A catastrophic event is likely in the near future without this reconstruction," he said.

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