If you are like most Juneau hikers, you've probably taken advantage of the Forest Service public use cabin that is situated on the shores of Windfall Lake.
The cabin was built in 1997-98 through a partnership between the Taku Conservation Society and the Forest Service's Juneau Ranger District. This now-popular cabin attracts campers, wildlife viewers and visitors from far and near.
This increase in use, combined with the growing number of fishermen testing their skills in Windfall Creek and the number hikers enjoying scenery along the route, has taken its toll on the trail. The trail starts at the end of a short road that cuts off Glacier Highway just past mile 27.
Portions of the Windfall Lake Trail are located in poorly drained areas and the increased foot traffic has churned the vegetative mat into mud holes, created trenches and exposed once-hidden tree roots. This makes for plenty of oozing mud, stagnant puddles and tripping hazards - not a pleasant hiking experience.
Due to the trail's recent popularity, the Forest Service decided to reconstruct portions of the path to accommodate higher use levels and prevent more damage to the trail.
Work began in 2000 just beyond the first boardwalk near the trailhead. In cooperation with the Juneau Ranger District, a Trail Mix crew, SAGA crew and 12 volunteer vacationers from all around the United States began the first stage of Windfall Lake Trail improvements.
They began by scraping mud out of the trail until a hard surface was found. Next, bulk lift bags full of rock and gravel were flown to the sight by helicopter and emptied onto the trail to create a uniform, hard-packed surface.
In the first summer of work, 2,000 feet of trail was improved. Trail Mix crews continued the reconstruction efforts in 2001 by completing an additional 1,300 feet. This summer, Trail Mix crews again were on the job working to harden another 1,600 feet of tread. During this portion of the project the crew also realigned segments of the trail away from the eroding banks of Herbert River, removed hazardous trees along the route and installed culverts and ditches to ensure the new trail tread would be well drained during heavy rains.
Thanks to the efforts of volunteers, Trail Mix and SAGA, to date nearly 5,000 feet of trail have been improved from the trailhead to the Herbert River Bridge. Next summer, the Forest Service plans to replace some of the older bridges along the first section of the 3 1/2-mile trail.
On the Trails is provided by Trail Mix, a nonprofit trail maintenance and construction group.