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The new trail at Nugget Falls has had a long journey to completion, but is almost there with a spring finish in sight.
The trail has been a long-standing project to give a safer path to the famous waterfall from the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center. It runs about four-fifths of a mile, spurring east off Photo Point and traveling above the eastern shore of Mendenhall Lake. Officials say it's mostly complete and experiencing healthy reception, while plans are underway to put the finishing part up after the winter.
Ed Grossman, recreation program manger with the U.S. Forest Service, said the project is entering its third year, but the end is in sight. He estimates the project is 98 percent complete. The only missing part is the elevated walkway at the trail's beginning. Grossman said he hopes, weather permitting, this will be finished by the first week of May.
He said the goal is to have it done before the first cruise ships of the 2011 season arrive. Work on the trail's beginning will most likely start after winter.
"We have all materials bought and will take advantage of any weather windows, but realistically it will pick up in April," he said.
In the meantime, the rest of the trail is not only open but has seen heavy use from visitor traffic. Grossman said people have easy access to the rest of the trail, even in frozen conditions. He said the feedback so far has been positive.
Kate Navarro, a ranger at Mendenhall, agreed the trail has been accessible and well received. She said even in Friday's cold weather, folks were out there.
Grossman said one of the big reasons for the project is safety. He said rising precipitation and melt from the glacier has previously forced hikers on their way to the falls to have to scramble over bedrock that can be dangerous.
"We were having people inured every year at the beginning of the trail," he said.
Navarro said the current beginning isn't extremely dangerous but enough to justify the new walkway. She said they also wanted to make the trail accessible to the handicapped.
Grossman said once the walkway through the gorge is finished, the user-made trail will be closed to avoid further injuries.
The trail was mostly funded through the Alaska Trails Initiative, which Grossman said has brought in around $200,000. He said around $80,000 of additional funds have come in through outfitter guide fees. He said this money includes funds for the work yet to be done.
Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.