An aging and decrepit stretch of the Treadwell Trail near Eaglecrest Ski Area has seen some recent improvements.
The two-season project, funded through an Alaska Trails Initiative grant, wrapped up about a week ago as crews with Trail Mix Inc. laid the final 2,000 feet of top gravel, said Executive Director George Schaaf.
Overall the project included finishing and "hardening" the existing Lower Loop Nordic trails that began last year and made for earlier-than-usual cross country skiing last winter. The project also included the extension of a new, widened, hardened and partially re-routed trail extension to the bridge crossing Fish Creek and leading to the historic portion of the Treadwell Ditch trail.
"(Portions of the trail) have been groomed for wintertime use for years," Schaaf said. "That was fine, but the marsh was so wet that the groomer would bog down. Now the hardened trail can support the groomer."
For trail users, this means early-season Nordic skiing, likely with enough smooth space for skating and pre-laid tracks for classing skiing. It also means a safer, drier path for hikers.
"In the past there was just a plank trail that led through the muskeg," Schaaf said. "And actually, getting down to the Treadwell Ditch required you to descend down some really horrific steps. This gets you around all that."
Many Nordic skiers would likely relish an extension of Eaglecrest's cross country trail system, but at this time, Jeffra Clough, director of sales and marketing at Eaglecrest, said there are no plans to extend the grooming beyond what crews traditionally maintain each winter. The new extension is just too narrow for the groomer, she said.
"The very end of the trail down near the Treadwell Ditch is not part of our normal grooming routine," she said. "There still needs to be some widening done down near the creek."
Overall, she said users can expect what they experienced last year, which was a trail system that held snow longer and provided a better skiing surface.
As far as future plans go, Clough said it's still too early to say.
"I know that the crew is always trying to provide more consistent grooming on the trails," she said. "This upcoming winter will give us a chance to get down there and explore and see what we can do within the existing grooming patterns. Whether it's enhancing or lengthening the trails, what we're trying to do is create some variety out there."
Summer users, on the other hand, now have a new area to explore. Instead of the uphill trek to the top of Eaglecrest, hikers now have an option that is decidedly less strenuous.
"It's a stroll, a wander through the meadow," Clough said. "What it does is it gives alternatives."
One of those winter options includes the possibility of volunteer pre-season grooming courtesy of the Juneau Snowmobile Club in conjunction with the Juneau Nordic Ski Club.
Jack Kreinheder, a board member with the Juneau Snowmobile Club, said it's definitely a possibility, and one that will be explored if all goes well.
"There is a possibility of tailoring a snowmobile from one of the clubs, to groom what's called the Lower Fish Creek Loop," he said. "It may be on an occasional time period during the winter."
Overall, the newly completed trail work on both the north and south ends of the Treadwell Trail is another step forward in a plan to overhaul the popular, historic and largely flat route which follows the contours of Douglas Island.
The center portion, roughly from the Blueberry Hills area northward to the Fish Creek bridge, is managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Ed Grossman, recreation program manager for the Juneau Ranger District, said this area is sitting about sixth on the priority list. So far this year, the organization has worked hard to improve a few of their popular public use cabins as well as the trails that lead to them. As early as next year, Grossman said they are looking to repair some bridges on the Treadwell Trail, but the process is a bit complicated due to the historic nature of the area, the snow loads and the permitting processes that must first be examined.
"It's involved," he said. "(But) we're excited about what's begun on the fringes and we're excited about joining in on that effort and bringing it up to our standard. We want to catch up and we've begun those efforts and have laid the groundwork to pursue the funding to do that. We are trying to look into the bridge issue this fiscal year, but beyond that it may just take a crystal ball."
Contact Outdoors editor Abby Lowell at email@example.com.