Local trails could link into state, nat'l network

Posted: Monday, August 06, 2001

Everything from yurts to bathrooms to preserving wilderness character and solitude was discussed Friday and Saturday during a conference about the Southeast Alaska Trail System.

SEAtrails is a proposed grass-roots system of hiking, biking, kayaking and diving trails throughout the Inside Passage that would attract independent travelers seeking adventure, as well as lure visitors on organized tours to return or to linger.

"SEAtrails could help diversify Southeast Alaska," said Assembly member Frankie Pillifant, facilitator for the event. The conference, which about 40 people attended, was held in the Juneau Assembly Chambers.

SEAtrails' mission is to facilitate planning, construction and maintenance of a Southeast Alaska trail system that will enhance economic development, quality of life and transportation.

Davey Lubin of the Governor's TRAAK Board, a panel that deals with trails and recreational access, suggested that SEAtrails "could put the Angoons on an equal footing with the Juneaus; this is going to spread the wealth."

Kathie Wasserman, mayor of Pelican, agreed: "SEAtrails could keep Pelican on the map."

Only eight communities - including Juneau - have passed motions supporting SEAtrails. A $50,000 grant from the Federal Highway Administration is allowing preliminary assessments, which have been completed in Petersburg and Sitka, Lubin said. Pelican is next.

One panel discussed business opportunities associated with SEAtrails. Panelists stressed the importance of developing maps and an interactive Web site.

Laura Thompson, a planner for the San Francisco Bay Trail Project, cited an Ohio study that found that on a 27-mile segment of trail the average visitor spent $13.54 per day, mostly on food and vehicles, and $277 annually on durable goods such as bicycles, in-line skates and clothing.

Ron Crenshaw of Alaska State Parks noted that acquiring rights of way is tricky.

"Most of our trails are trespassing," he said. "So SEAtrails must not forget the legal aspects of trying to get rights of way. People may assume they are public trails, but they cross mental health trust lands, university lands, Native lands, federal lands, state lands and everything else you can imagine."

George Reifenstein, director of operations for the Mount Roberts Tramway, mentioned the desirability of keeping trails accessible to "those who are not the most fit, so that people can keep going into the wilderness, into the alpine," in their retirement years.

Bart Henderson was of the opinion that only huts would sell SEAtrails. But if it included a system of huts like those on the Appalachian Trail, Alaska could "compete on the world market."

Cost was on many minds. Ryan McFarland, who is the entire Petersburg Parks and Recreation Department, generated a conference belly laugh when he said, "People really like the idea of a kayak trail from Petersburg to LeConte Glacier - because they wouldn't have to build anything."

Juneau is well prepared to be involved with SEAtrails, said Bob Grochow, parks and landscape supervisor with the Juneau Parks and Recreation Department.

"With conveyance of lands to the city in the 1980s, it allowed us to identify some potential trail corridors - access to shore lines, streams and public beaches. With the assistance of service organizations and (the nonprofit) Trail Mix, we were able to create trails with no budget."

Juneau completed a trail plan in 1991, he added. Furthermore, the city is now assessing fees from commercial users of trails, and the cruise ship fee supplies additional income. The city recently hired its first dedicated trails employee.

Like several participants, Grochow said that until recently trails were developed for locals and independent visitors, but now greater attention is aimed at giving cruise ship passengers what they want.

Ketchikan is completing the Minerva Mountain Trail, said Dennis Benson, a Ketchikan trails advocate. Several speakers noted the difficulty of getting hikers to trailheads or kayaks from ferries to put-in points. Minerva Mountain allows easy access: "One leg will come out right above the cruise ship dock and another above the ferry terminal," Benson said.

Arn Albrecht of the U.S. Forest Service distributed copies of a draft memorandum of understanding between the U.S. Department of the Interior, the state and eight communities including Juneau. The memo encourages cooperative efforts to plan, locate, design, construct, and/or maintain trails for the purpose of establishing SEAtrails, which will link communities and the Alaska Marine Highway System.

Reaction to the memo was positive.

"When I first heard about the (memo), I was skeptical; it reminded me of trying to load frogs in a wheelbarrow. But it is coming along really well," Pillifant said.

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at achandonnet@juneauempire.com.

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