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Trail tales & trekking

Parks and Recreation hiking group meets twice weekly, shares camaraderie, stories, history about Juneau's trails sytem

Posted: Friday, November 20, 2009

Somewhere off the beaten path, tucked behind a large boulder or a fallen tree is an unknown trail, one that few know of or remember and that is often passed without recognition or a second thought.

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Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire

But thanks to the Juneau Parks and Recreation's Wednesday and Saturday hikes, some of the information surrounding these trails is being kept alive. This faithful group has been meeting twice weekly since the early 1980s.

"Unbelievably this was the first trail I ever hiked," Carolyn Gould said as she thrust a walking pole through a foot of fresh snow along the Peterson Lake Trail on Wednesday morning.

"It was June, it was muddy, and it was wet, I do remember that," she said. "It did have boards on it at the time."

Gould is this day's group leader. She has been hiking Juneau for 26 years.

"It's a good group," Gould said. "It's fun. Everyone has a good time."

On this hike, along with Mary Willson, Mary Zahn, Julie Coghill, Carrol Rafferty and Wayne Bertholl, they trudged through swirling snow flakes, a foot of fresh snow and layers of soft mud, through muskeg to alpine meadows and finished with a view of an ice-covered Peterson Lake.

"No matter what the weather, we always go," Rafferty, a 15-year member, said. "The purpose is just to get out and get some exercise. We all love hiking."

The vast majority of Juneau's long-time, older hikers or adventurers, those who would know the special byways of the trails, have either died or no longer get out onto the trail systems.

The Wednesday/Saturday group has had as many as 20 hikers. Wednesday's are supposed to be just adults, but the group encourages any and all to join. Saturdays are more family oriented.

Julie Coghill has hiked with the group for more than a year, and is the most recent returning member.

"Whatever trail we are doing, at the end of the day, that is my new favorite trail," Coghill said. "And whatever trail we are on, that is the best trail to be doing at the moment."

New or first-time hikers often show up because they want to learn more about a particular trail or, like recent retiree Wayne Bertholl, an avid hunter, they just want to get away from the daily grind.

"I believe that walking is the best exercise there is," Bertholl said. "I believe when you get up into the age range that I am, running really isn't conducive to good joints. (Hiking) gives you a chance to clear your mind. If the trail conditions are right you can just burn ahead or, like today, you can take the back like I do."

His position at the end of the line is also known as the "the tail gunner" or "the cowboy" because he herds them all along. But most of the bantering and the pet names will remain a secret. Not all are printable, members said.

Added Bertholl, "Walking in the Juneau area gives you a chance to enjoy some of the scenic environment ... and it is very diverse. It goes from muskeg to the alpine, down to the sand to the rocks, easy hillsides, steep hillsides. ... This is not a real aggressive hiking group, but it gives you a chance to enjoy what you want to enjoy in a particular area."

The hikers explore historical routes, or stop to look at animal tracks, flowers or birds. The group is something of a walking meditation of the local flora and fauna.

"This is the farthest that the steelhead can come," Willson said as she shows the group the Peterson Falls overlook. "There's a pool at the bottom of the falls. I learned that from an Alaska Department of Fish and Game fish biologist who hiked here, and ... lots of flyfishers go there."

One of the group's first hikers, who trekked long before the parks & rec program is Mary Lou King. King, now in her 80s, published a book in 1988 titled "90 Short Walks Around Juneau." The book, one of many listing Juneau's trail systems, was last reprinted in 2007. Dedicated hiking enthusiast Paul Emerson, who died in 2005, the book does more than give ideas for places to hike, it also shares knowledge of landmarks, viewpoints, trails or other natural resources worthy of protection, preservation and public access. It also acknowledges the deer, bears, Natives, prospectors and miners that pioneered Juneau's trails.

The group holds an annual "White Elephant" banquet on Dec. 1 at the home of a member with the largest living room. Each attendee brings a re-gift or "White Elephant" that they want to pass on to someone else.

"Kind of like the trails we hike," Gould said. "We just want to pass on something that may be useful to someone else."

• Contact Klas Stolpe at klas.stolpe@juneauempire.com.



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