Four major local trails have been spruced up this summer in a move that may give local outdoors enthusiasts new reasons to revisit old stomping grounds.
The renovation projects - performed by the local nonprofit group Trail Mix, volunteers, and city, state and federal workers - are in varied states of completion, said Executive Director James King.
Work on the Windfall Lake Trail has finished, while efforts at the Perseverance and Mount Roberts Trails are well underway and will continue through the remainder of the summer, King said.
However, work on the Treadwell Ditch Trail has stopped temporarily. The Alaska State Historic Preservation Office, an agency based in Anchorage, has determined the trail is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, and further work must proceed with caution, said Doug Blanc, recreation planner with the U.S. Forest Service.
"We did have to scale down the work because it is really good practice to do some good planning where a historical structure or things like that are concerned," Blanc said. "We have to negotiate with SHPO to determine what is acceptable. They may not want us to go in and tear up some of the old structures. They may want us to do cultural resource surveys."
Complicating matters is the ownership of the trail, Blanc said. Sections are owned by the Forest Service, the state and the city.
"Right now we haven't even gotten together to address that, and that is something we need to do," Blanc said. "There's a nomination process. It can be determined that it's eligible for inclusion. That doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be declared a national historic place."
Funding for Trail Mix's planned renovation project was supplied by the city and the Forest Service and by two grants received by Trail Mix, King said.
"This was something that we didn't realize would come up," he added. "We're sort of regrouping at the moment, to figure out how to work on the next hurdle."
Other local projects have come to a more conclusive ending. Trail Mix crews have spent the past three summers working with the Forest Service on a section of the Windfall Lake Trail between the trailhead and the first bridge, King said. This summer, the project is wrapping up.
"I think our work is pretty much finished," said Colby Shibler, Trail Mix trail crew leader. "The gravel is done and pretty much compacted. ... None of our crews are working out there anymore."
Use of the trail began to increase about four years ago when a new cabin was built, King said. A popular sockeye salmon fishery and the low elevation gain of the trail also have added to its appeal.
"With the increase of use, it's been getting steadily muddier, particularly at the beginning," King said. "Working with the Forest Service, we have been going through and hardening it with gravel."
Mud and organic materials have been scraped out of the trail and replaced with a gravel footing slightly above water level. Drainage problems along the Forest Service-owned trail have also been corrected with the addition of ditches and culverts, King said.
"We've really done a lot to harden it so it's much easier to walk on and get over the muddy spots," King said. "The work that they just completed gets you to the first bridge, (about) a mile."
No funds are available - and no commitment has been made - to extend the work on the trail, King said. This year's renovations were funded by the Forest Service.
Work is still in progress on Perseverance Trail, which was hit hard by a creek washout several years ago. The end of the trail was obliterated, but Trail Mix is working to extend and restore it, King said.
"We anticipate having a new bridge by mid to late September," he said. "When the bridge goes in, it will open up this new network of trails that the crews have been working on this summer."
A new trail has been constructed that leads to the waterfalls that originally marked the end of Perseverance, King said. An old mining trail also has been restored as a spur trail; it provides a view of the valley.
"A lot of it's been clearing out a route, getting rid of a lot of the alders and flattening and creating somewhat of a solid trail," said Shibler, Trail Mix trail crew leader.
Workers have been excited to discover a number of artifacts from the old mining days, Shibler added. Several bunkhouses once stood near the new trail route, and items such as boots, broken bottles, shovels and a china doll's arm were found during construction.
"There's tons of ruins and really neat old walls that were built a long time ago to shore up the sides of the (trail) there," Shibler said. "They're probably still as solid as the day they were put in. It's amazing."
Trail Mix has made a strong effort to disguise the work area because the site remains unsafe for the public, King said.
"They're moving some big rocks around, and when they roll them down, they actually roll over the trail on a lower level," King said.
Renovation - which is funded by revenue from the passenger fee leveled on cruise ship passengers - also has been done on the smaller Bear Creek Trail created as an alternative route when the old bridge washed out, King said.
The trail - also known as the Red Mill Trail - bypasses the washout entirely. Trail Mix crews have graded and smoothed it, and when work on the new trail is complete, they should form a loop, King said.
Another popular path that's received upkeep this summer is the Mount Roberts Trail, King said. Workers and volunteers from the Mount Roberts Stewards rebuilt weak railings, rebuilt a section of steps to make them more navigable and performed general trail maintenance.
"We're sort of in the middle of the work," King said. "Fixing a step here and there, fixing some drainage."
Genevieve Gagne-Hawes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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