If you've hiked a Juneau trail, chances are they've been there first.
Trail Mix, Juneau's multi-agency trail management group, has been clearing, building and maintaining local pathways since 1993. What began as a small group of volunteers brushing trails is now even more of a force to be reckoned with, actively working in the planning and policy aspects of the Juneau trail system.
The organization is continually increasing in size, said James King, executive director of Trail Mix for almost four years.
"Last year we had about 3,500 hours of volunteer time," King said. "It's a mind-boggling number when you start thinking about each individual hour and how it's spent. The majority of that is (people) actually physically out on the trails doing work."
As Trail Mix takes on larger projects, the number of users it serves increases. Mark Wilke, a snowmachiner and member of the Trail Mix board of directors, thinks this is one of the organization's great strengths.
"That's the ... beauty of Trail Mix," Wilke said. "The work that it does covers so many different user groups - different user groups that are enjoying the same trail oftentimes."
Trail Mix was founded in 1993 on the strength of a recommendation in the Juneau Trails Plan, which ignored property lines in an effort to oversee total management of Juneau's trail system, with an estimated total of 200 to 250 miles of pathways.
The plan, hammered out by the city Parks and Recreation Department, the state Parks and Outdoor Recreation Division and the U.S. Forest Service, advised that a nonprofit, tri-agency organization be created to oversee trail management.
The new agency would "help bring the three agencies together ... and help stretch the resources that the three agencies had, further than they were able to do it through volunteers and grants," King said.
Headed by former Juneau resident Bill Chisham, a group of volunteers followed the plan's suggestion, venturing out on weekends to clear trails and put up signs. Their largest project was a series of improvements to the Spaulding Meadows Trail, according to King.
In 1997, the three agencies decided the fledgling organization might be the best way to manage trails in the future. A consultant was hired to investigate the possibility of making Trail Mix into a substantially larger operation with paid employees. A steering committee of representatives from Trail Mix; the Southeast Alaska Guidance Association, a youth-oriented nonprofit outdoors group; and the Taku Conservation Society, another nonprofit outdoors group, worked for a year on the details of the revamped organization.
"Trail Mix had already created a great reputation in Juneau," King said. "Many people knew the name. They already had a membership list. They already had nonprofit status."
The steering committee requested Trail Mix allow itself to be taken over, and the organization agreed. The by-laws and board of directors were changed, and King was hired in late November 1997.
"We've pressed forward since then," King said. "We've ramped up significantly. We've increased the number of projects, (and) we've worked very hard with all three agencies to get funding for trails. That's come in a whole variety of ways."
City Parks and Recreation director Kim Kiefer said Trail Mix fills an important role in the community.
"Trail Mix does the maintenance for us. (Without them) it would be really hard," Kiefer said. "It would have to be back to the agencies, (which) would have to then hire people on to be able to fill the gap."
The changes the organization has made in Juneau's hiking trails are obvious, said Bob Garrison, a longtime trail user and volunteer.
"They kind of hit the ground running," Garrison said. "It's been a well-coordinated effort and I'm sure everybody appreciates it."
Upkeep in Juneau is always a challenge, King said. In a rainforest, mud and muskeg need to be graveled or planked. Wooden planks wear out over the years, and the costs of transporting gravel and similar heavy building materials is high.
"Other places I've lived and hiked and worked don't have as much of a challenge that way," King said. "There's a lot of mileage of trail to try to keep up with, because no matter how well they're fixed one year, the next year they need at least a little maintenance."
Recent projects have ranged from minor trail upkeep to building larger structures such as bridges. Snowmachiner Wilke participated in one of Trail Mix's major projects for the year 2000 - building a parking lot at the end of Jackson Street on West Juneau's Blueberry Hill. The lot gives snowmachiners a place to park their vehicles while accessing the Dan Moller Trail via the Treadwell Ditch.
The new lot helped calm complaints from neighborhood residents upset over the noise and traffic congestion caused by the snowmachines, King said.
"That's a good example of Trail Mix trying to represent all user groups," he added. "Through a long process of meeting and talking and continuing to talk with the neighborhood and the users, that (solution) was agreed upon."
Board President Alice Rarig cited the Trails Working Group facilitated by Trail Mix as one of the organization's most important accomplishments.
The project began two years ago after then-Mayor Dennis Egan asked the organization to help designate trails in Juneau that could be used by tour companies.
The Trails Working Group was co-chaired by Juneau Assembly member Cathy Munoz and Rarig. Agency, public and tour industry interests were represented, Rarig said.
Meetings were held and public surveys were taken over a two-year period, and the list of Juneau trails was gradually narrowed down. The final recommendations - agreed upon by all members of the committee - were passed onto the agencies and the city.
"I believe there's nine recommendations coming out of that," King said. "The places we were all about to agree on are places that have very little effect on other users and (the) environment."
Trail Mix played a stabilizing role in the long discussions, said Kiefer, city parks and recreation director.
"It was their charge to keep it going, to keep all the groups continuing to make comments and keep the process moving forward," Kiefer said. "They did a very good process."
King estimated that Trail Mix receives about one-third of its funding from the agencies, with the city contributing the largest amount. The remainder comes from grants, donations and volunteer labor, he said. Last year's budget totaled about $400,000, plus more than $100,000 in donated labor and goods, King said.
"All the board members, everyone that you see as a user group and volunteer - they all have this one thing in common," Wilke said. "They just have this intense love of the trails and an ownership stake in them. They've used them again and again, they have a favorite trail they love to go on, and they feel that it's a part of themselves."
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