People who would rather scan the view than watch their footing will find it easier to walk the latest trail built in the Outer Point area of North Douglas.
The Rain Forest Trail is totally lacking in steps, slippery boards and tangled roots. The route near 12 Mile Douglas Highway includes a loop within a loop so two commercial groups can use it simultaneously without running into each other.
"It's more acceptable to tourists than a lot of our other trails very smooth and easy to walk on for people who aren't in good shape, can't see well or have bad knees," said James King of Trail Mix, a nonprofit trail construction and maintenance organization. "We get lots of complaints about steps, and the turnpike style allows us to go up and down hill without steps."
Turnpike-style construction uses parallel peeled logs about 3 feet apart as "sides." Waterproof fabric is laid on the ground between the logs, topped with a layer of large gravel. On top of the gravel is gray, sandy silt fill similar to what is used on ball fields around Juneau. King said between 200 and 250 cubic yards of the byproduct of creating washed rock, once considered waste material, went into the Rain Forest job.
The fill is not slippery when wet as is the planking traditionally used on trails, and it may have a much longer life, King added.
"Planking (treated with wood preservative) has a lifespan of 15 to 20 years, and it's considered toxic waste when we remove it. We have to ship it to Seattle," he said. "This turnpike could last indefinitely."
The trail was scheduled to be finished in mid-July but completion was delayed until Labor Day, "because it was a new process that we didn't know anything about," King said. "It was more labor-intensive than we originally figured."
One of the first groups to hike the trail came from a cruise ship, the Carnival Spirit. Several people praised the ease of walking. Others enjoyed its aesthetic and natural aspects.
"It's wonderful. It's so peaceful," said Arlene Benovitz of Dallas.
"It made me think of my Creator," said Lorraine Munagian of Atlanta.
Gastineau Guiding naturalist Gene Harrison told members of the trail group that about a century ago, Outer Point was selectively logged of its spruce to provide fuel to power steamships. What remains today is a cathedral-like canopy of mostly hemlock sheltering coral mushrooms, hundreds of mosses, high-bush blueberries, chicken-of-the-woods (a bright orange shelf fungus), rattlesnake plantain (an orchid) and other plant life. The trail opens onto a rocky beach and a view of Shaman Island. Bald eagles can be seen catching and eating rockfish.
"It's so beautiful and tranquil," Harrison said on the beach. "When I have worries I just come out here and look around and think how fortunate I am."
Although the Rain Forest Trail was built with commercial users such as Gastineau Guiding in mind, "Everybody is welcome," said Kim Kiefer, director of Juneau's Parks and Recreation Department.
"The public simply needs to keep in mind that it is permitted until 7 p.m. seven days a week for commercial groups up to 15 people. Spacing will be 15 minutes between groups. We are asking everyone to go on the trail counter-clockwise to maintain natural spacing," Kiefer said.
Money for the trail came from the cruise ship passenger fee. Kiefer anticipates the original $100,000 budget may not quite cover final costs.
Finishing touches are still to come. Trail Mix and volunteers are working on a second, 1,500-foot loop that circles a meadow. They also will put in a parking lot at a muddy spot nearby and erect signs by next spring.
Ann Chandonnet can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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