A trail gets a makeover

Posted: Friday, September 01, 2000

As summer draws to a close, sit back and picture yourself walking on a wide, flat trail along a pristine fish stream . . . a place like Juneau's Montana Creek trail.

It's a rarity in Southeast Alaska -- and unique in our urban Mendenhall Valley. The Montana Creek trail is a recreational gem; a year-round attraction to local fly-fishers, families at play, hikers, bikers, skiers and snowmachiners -- all within a short distance of a major population center.

Despite its popularity, the section of upper Montana Creek "trail" above the footbridge (formerly a road), had not been maintained since it was closed to vehicle traffic. The most pressing problem was bad drainage. Trailside ditches had filled with dirt. Runoff water washed over the trail, eroding it and carrying sediment into the fish stream. Large sections of the trail were collapsing.

This summer, the Mendenhall Watershed Partnership joined forces with Trail Mix Inc. to improve the drainage and reconstruct the upper Montana Creek trail. Montana Creek's unique values have made it a top interest for the people involved in the Mendenhall Watershed Partnership. We were excited to have secured grant funding to help with its restoration.

The partnership is a group of citizens who joined together in 1998 to improve the health of the Mendenhall Valley's streams, while also maintaining a vital local community and economy. The partnership is a bit of a "have your cake and eat it too" organization. We're looking for ways to keep our streams healthy and attractive features of our neighborhoods, while still supporting our growing urban community.

Our balanced viewpoint has attracted a diverse group of people who live, work and play in the Valley to join the partnership -- including home and land owners, builders, teachers, business people and scientists. We've enjoyed generous support from local businesses for restoration projects and public events, and we have a strong partnership with the city, state and federal agencies who affect the Mendenhall watershed's futures.

Improving the Montana Creek trail's drainage would be tricky. The trailside ditches needed to be dug out to carry more water. But that typically results in a bare ditch which carries sediment-laden water to the stream. We needed to make the ditch deep enough to carry flow, but keep vegetation growing in the ditch to strain dirt from the runoff water before it reaches this important salmon stream.

To do this, Trail Mix's contractor "rolled back" the vegetation growing in the ditch, scooped out dirt to deepen it and then rolled the vegetation back into place. New culverts were also added, and failed sections of trail reconstructed.

Go investigate. See if you can see where the work was done. We're betting you'll have a hard time spotting the improvements! And that is what we planned.

If you like what you see up Montana Creek, come join the Mendenhall Watershed Partnership in our other events and projects. We invite you to:

Join us for free pizza at our fall 2000 kickoff gathering at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 19, featuring presentations about the natural history of the watershed, restoration work accomplished this summer and plans for the coming year. Check the Empire "Around Town" column for the location.

"Adopt-a-stream" with your family, neighbors or community group, and keep it litter-free by participating in fall and spring stream cleanups.

Help stencil storm drains with the message "Dump No Waste, Drains to Fish Stream," to remind people not to dump pollutants down neighborhood storm drains.

Enroll your elementary-age child in a "Watershed Discovery Day" in October 2000 or March 2001 (co-sponsored by award-winning Discovery Southeast) -- or volunteer to help with kids' activities on that day.

Join your Valley neighbors in planting streamside vegetation as part of a stream restoration project.

Lend us your expertise, idea or opinion on any issue affecting the Mendenhall watershed.

We have plans for even more restoration work up Montana Creek next summer. Thanks for this summer's great work are due to James King and Trail Mix Inc., Dave Hanna, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Recreational Trails Grant Program, which funded the project.

For more information about the Mendenhall Watershed Partnership, call 586-3141 or visit our Web site at www.mendenhallwatershed.org. Find out more about Trail Mix Inc. by calling 790-6406 or at their Web site at www.alaska.net/~trailmix.

Jan Caulfield is a senior planner for Sheinberg Associates, which serves as staff for the Mendenhall Watershed Partnership. Monthly meetings for the Juneau Audubon Society resume at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 14 in the Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School library. Dr. Mark Wipfli, research aquatic ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service Research Station in Juneau, will discuss how nutrients from spawning salmon carcasses influence the productivity of stream/riparian food webs in Alaska.

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