Perseverance Trail in the summer

Posted: Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Perseverance Trail is one of the most heavily used trails in Juneau. Noon-time walkers from downtown, joggers and bikers, back-country hikers who've come over from Blackerby Ridge or the Juneau Ridge, guided groups of tourists, and dog-walkers - they all enjoy the trail in their own ways.

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The popularity of this trail raised concerns about safety, because portions of it are eroding badly and the old log cribbing that supports certain sections is rotting away. So last fall, workers began widening and stabilizing the part of the trail that approaches Ebner Falls and the turn-off to the Mount Juneau trail. More work will be done this coming fall, closing the trail for some time.

Trail repairs required some heavy-duty measures. Blasting back the rock faces produced the look of a war zone - the trees on the downhill side of the trail are shredded and tattered. Rock debris and broken branches cover the slopes. It will take years for the newly exposed rock faces to acquire pockets of soil sufficient to support the lovely little rock gardens that used to decorate the uphill side of the trail in this area. On the other hand, history buffs note that this is a sample of what the whole valley once looked like, back in the old mining days.

In late June, a stroll up the trail (once past the blast zone) offered a surprising array of wildflowers. We counted at least 25 species, plus several kinds of flowering shrubs. At that time, there were the last of the shooting stars and the first of the wild parsnip (a.k.a. Indian rhubarb); columbine and northern geranium were in full, fresh bloom. Among the other flowers we found were several species of saxifrage, a green rein orchid, lots of miners' lettuce, valerian, two kinds of violets, and the dainty little starflower - a personal favorite of mine. Not a bad list, considering we never set foot off the trail!

More recently, some over-exuberant brushing of trailsides has destroyed much of the floral show.

We watched a doe with a tiny fawn prance up the snow in Snowslide Gulch and disappear into the thickets. A black bear sauntered along the side of Juneau Ridge. And high on Juneau Ridge was a group of four mountain goat nannies with two small kids, nibbling on the new, green alpine vegetation. The nannies were molting heavily, and chunks of their thick winter coats hung off their sides, giving them a very odd shape.

By the end of June, the early birds raised their first broods of chicks. Robins and fox sparrows, for example, have big fledglings hopping around in the underbrush. Their singing activity is much diminished, although if they decide to rear a second brood, there might be a small resurgence of song. Other species, such as Wilson's warblers and winter wrens, are busy feeding nestlings and still singing occasionally. Juncos already have independent juveniles from the first brood and are well along on their second batch of eggs. Late-arriving migrants, such as Swainson's thrushes and MacGillivray's warblers, are just getting started and are still singing very actively.

Souvenirs of last winter's record snowfall were evident as we went a little way up the Granite Basin trail. The waterfall at the entrance to the basin was mostly open, but deep snow clogged the valley below the falls. So it was impossible for American dippers to return to their usual nest site on the streamside cliffs.

Parts of the trail were well-buried, too. But there was a nice, dry spot of subalpine meadow for a lunch spot. And a warm breeze and a bit of thin sunshine made it hard to head for home in a hurry.

• Mary Willson is a retired professor of ecology and a Trail Mix board member.

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