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Repairing Their Trail

Juneau Snowmobile Club members volunteer time for safer winter riding

Posted: Sunday, November 17, 2002

Members of the Juneau Snowmobile Club are firm believers in the adage that if you want something done, you've got to do it yourself.

This is the third weekend this month they've donated their time and equipment for upkeep of the Lake Creek Trail leading to Spaulding Meadows. When the snow comes, they will be ready.

Snowmobilers in Juneau have two main choices for where they play in the snow: the Dan Moller Trail, a Douglas Island path popular with skiers and snowmobilers, and the Spaulding Meadows area, accessible to snowmobilers via the Lake Creek Trail that begins on University of Alaska Southeast land near Back Loop Road. As often happens to Southeast Alaska pathways, the Lake Creek Trail has suffered from use and the elements.

"We saw that the trail was getting pretty bad, and we saw that if we didn't do something our riding was in jeopardy," said Mark Wilke, treasurer of the Juneau Snowmobile Club. He and other members of the club decided to figure out what they could do to repair the trail before it got worse.

"We're really trying hard to do the right thing and take care of the trails we use," said club President Brad Davis. "It is our trail, and there were sections of that trail that made us look bad."

Technically, most of the trail is the Forest Service's responsibility. The Forest Service maintains many trails, though, so the snowmobile club was smart to take the matters into its own hands, said U.S. Forest Service Recreation Planner Doug Blanc.

"If it hadn't been for the snowmobile club, the repairs would have been done by the Forest Service at some point, but probably not as quickly," said Blanc. "The volunteer time and materials they donated is quite an expenditure, and it would have taken the Forest Service some time to budget the upkeep."

Work on the trail has included widening, making turn-outs for machines to get off the trail and creating clearings so the riders can have a longer line-of-sight down the trail. Much of the trail also is being hardened with gravel, and culverts have been dug to help with drainage.

The operation has been a cooperative effort among the snowmobile club, the Forest Service and Trail Mix. This is the second time the organizations have come together to improve the Lake Creek Trail - the first was three years ago when volunteers worked on the first 1,200 feet of the trail with a $30,000 state grant. This time, the grant is for $15,000, and the work is being done on the 1,800 feet after the first improved area.

"This grant is mostly just paying for materials and equipment," said James King, executive director of Trail Mix, a nonprofit trails construction and maintenance organization. He helped write the grant in cooperation with the snowmobile club and the Forest Service. "It pays for pipes, gravel to put on top of the trail and equipment needed to do it."

In addition to labor, much of the necessary equipment, including backhoes and small dump trucks, was donated by contractors who are members of the Juneau Snowmobile Club.

"The snowmobile club's incredible," said King. "They give their entire weekend all day long both days, and donate equipment use."

"These guys have put in a tremendous amount of work," said Blanc. He anticipates the trail maintenance would be completed this weekend as planned. Any touch-up work will be done by Forest Service crews.

The Glacier Riders Snowmobile Club built the Lake Creek Trail nearly 20 years ago. Though the club no longer exists, the trail, which runs 3 1/2 miles from the trailhead near the student housing on Back Loop Road to Spaulding Meadows, remains one of the most-used snow machine trails in Juneau.

The Spaulding Meadows area, several miles uphill and inland from Auke Bay, is unique because it is accessible by separate trails for separate users. Snowmobilers use the Lake Creek Trail, while skiers, hikers and snowshoers use the Spaulding Trail that branches off of the Auk Nu Trail that begins near Auke Bay. Separate trails for motorized and nonmotorized users translates into a safer situation for both groups wishing to share the area. While skiers, hikers and snowshoers are allowed on the Lake Creek Trail, snowmobilers rarely see nonmotorized users on the trail.

Once they arrive at the meadows, nonmotorized users have access to all areas. Snowmobilers are required by Forest Service regulations to stick to the eastern side of the meadows that run north to Windfall Lake, said Blanc.

"The Forest Service generally doesn't restrict forested areas to nonmotorized users," Blanc said. Boundary markers have been placed in the meadows to indicate the areas restricted to motorized users. Fortunately, Spaulding Meadows offers adequate space for both groups.

"It's a beautiful place to ride," said Wilke. "There are miles and miles of rolling hills that are just perfect for snowmobiling."

Christine Schmid can be reached at cschmid@juneauempire.com.



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