Pushing beyond Perseverance Trail

Expansion takes trails to the end of Silverbow Basin and the lip of a glory hole

Posted: Sunday, July 20, 2003

The initial value of the Perseverance Trail, built by miners at the end of the 19th century, was measured in the amount of gold it allowed to be carried from the mines in the Silverbow Basin to Juneau.

The trail's current value is harder to measure, but arguably it has increased with work done by Trail Mix crew members and volunteers who began expanding the trail last summer.

The fruits of the organization's labor, and of many years of planning by city and state park authorities, are the extra miles of trails that were officially opened to the public last week.

"We had some neat things we were able to do back there," said James King, executive director of Trail Mix, the Juneau-based nonprofit trail-building and maintenance organization.

"We went along some rock wall foundations and continued to Lurvey Creek. ... Then we reopened some switchback trails created by the miners to get people up high so they could look out over the valley."

Lurvey Creek is the source of the falls at the end of the Silverbow Basin that were, until last year, only accessible by intrepid bush-whacking hikers.

The trail expansion includes a one-mile loop known as the Red Mill, which Trail Mix crew members originally dubbed the Bear Creek Trail. The name changed when some community members pointed out the existence of another Bear Creek Trail behind Gastineau Elementary School.

Trail Mix began maintaining the Red Mill Trail about five years ago, when the bridge over Granite Creek - just before the Granite Creek trailhead on Perseverance - was washed out in a flash flood.

Trail Mix decided to make a permanent trail out of the loop because "people liked it so much and we just thought it made such a unique alternative," King said.

About a quarter-mile up the Red Mill Trail, another trail leading to a glory hole heads to the right. The trail leads to an overlook of an enormous void in the mountain left by the mining companies as they dug ore from the mountainside and ground it up in the search for gold. The overlook is the site of a former mill, the remnants of which litter the brush on both sides of the trail.

The old Granite Creek bridge was replaced about four years ago, said Bob Grochow, city park superintendent. But the same wash-out that destroyed the bridge also washed out the last two-thirds of a mile of the Perseverance Trail. That portion of the trail wasn't repaired until last summer.

"It was a total reroute of the trail because the old trail route had been severely damaged by the flooding," Grochow said.

The new trail, which Trail Mix completed this spring, follows an old mining road that was used in the beginning of the 20th century.

The new portion of the trail, which continues for about 0.6 miles, has two ends: one at an overlook just past a new bridge at Lurvey Creek; the other up switchbacks that lead to the foundations of buildings that once were part of the Perseverance Mine.

The project, which was funded mostly by $100,000 in city cruise ship passenger fees, has not been completed. But the trails are open to the public while Trail Mix crews finish their work, Grochow said.

The work is the result of a community discussion on trail use that began about three or four years ago, King said.

"There was a lot of conflict between commercial and noncommercial use on trails," he said. "... The Juneau Assembly asked Trail Mix to facilitate a process to determine which trails in Juneau should be designated for commercial use and which should be closed to commercial use."

Trail Mix organized a committee of representatives from state, federal and local parks agencies, as well as tour operators and members of the public, to resolve the trail-use issues.

The committee met every other week and held several community hearings through two winters and came up with a compromise for commercial use.

Granite Creek officially was closed to commercial use the second week in July, King said.

"We systematically evaluated every trail in Juneau," King said. "We were looking at parking, impacts to neighborhoods, and spreading commercial use over the trail system instead of concentrating it.

"What we heard from that process was that people thought that Granite Creek should be closed to commercial use," King said. "So we, the committee, talked about that and said 'Well, OK, let's close Granite Creek when Perseverance can be open to the end.' "

Gastineau Guiding, the major guiding company that lead hikes to the Granite Creek basin, has not brought tourists to the area this season, said Kelly Skellenger, a guide with the company. Some of the guides have brought tourists on the new Perseverance expansions.

"I think this is a real success of the passenger-fee money," King said. "As I listen to the debates over creating a passenger fee or a head tax, this is what I thought I heard the public say, that we want to spend the money on projects that mitigate the impact of commercial use on the city trails."

Christine Schmid can be reached at cschmid@juneauempire.com.

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