Perseverance Trail's much-needed bedrock-blast restoration began Dec. 15, after a month-long postponement due to the early, heavy snowfall.
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The question now is how long the work will take, and if unforeseen weather developments will delay the project again.
The initial timetable called for the trail - a beloved recreational destination for residents and visitors - to be closed from Nov. 8, 2006, through May 2007.
"We're thinking that we can keep that timetable, but who knows what other curveballs the weather has in store," said Marc Matsil, Juneau Parks and Recreation director.
"We need 90 days to get this work in," said Trail Mix executive director James King. "We anticipate that by June 1 everything will be complete and it will be open again. That's our worst-case scenario. We're trying to do it sooner than that."
Ketchikan-based Channel Construction began blasting through bedrock on Dec. 15 and will resume on Tuesday, after a pause for the holidays.
The plan is to widen the first 114 trail into the bedrock. A series of cribs have been holding the trail in place over the steep cliff above Gold Creek. But 21 of those cribs are failing.
Due to washouts, the state has spent more than $1 million repairing and maintaining the trail over the last few decades.
Approximately 2,500 linear feet will be blasted at 17 sites along the first 114 miles of the trail. Roughly 6,600 cubic yards of material will be removed. Most of that will fly over the downhill-side edge of the trail during the blast. The remainder will be pushed off.
In the spring, 14 24-inch culverts will be installed for drainage.
The project is funded, in part, by a $690,000 Alaska Trails Initiative Grant.
"We thought we'd start the first of November, which is when we got all the permissions and permits and agreements in place," King said.
"The past few years, November has been wet, with a little bit of slush here and there. But we got all that snow, and the contractor made the decision that the conditions were not safe."
The Civilian Conservation Corps built the series of cribs (retaining walls) in 1934, and they've been failing for years. The state, the city and Trail Mix contemplated building new cribs, building a bridge over the cribs or blasting a new notch in the mountain for the trail.
"After having a lot of professional work and engineers from the city and the state look at it, the decision was made that rebuilding the cribs is expensive and dangerous and they have a lifetime," King said. "They're going to fail some other time."
Bridges, it was decided, would also rust and rot over time.
"What made the most sense was to blast a notch into the hillside," King said. "We know there will be stuff coming down from above occasionally, but we'll be able to throw that out. The notch in the rock, in theory, is fairly long-term."
The option of small-scale blasting, using hand drills, was quickly discarded.
"It would take years to do all that blasting, and the cost would be huge," King said. "In order to do it efficiently, we needed to do it big enough to accommodate decent-size equipment. That meant a wider trail."
The first part of the trail - the stretch that branches off from Basin Road before the circular parking lot - has been considerably widened to allow equipment to drive into the blasting zone.
"It does look big and wide and rough, but as the process completes and we clean it up and smooth it out and narrow it up, and you give a year or two for the vegetation to start coming back, it will start to feel like a trail again," King said.
Workers have removed the first two bridges and are now pulling out the third one. They're roughly 150 feet from the trail's first overlook, "The Horn," popular for its benches and railing.
"Those bridges are already failing," King said. "They're close to the end of their expected life, and it's time to get them out of there. That third one, if it fails, there's just a cliff."
Until work is complete, the trail is closed. There are warning signs posted along Basin Road and the trail.
"We don't want onlookers," King said.
"When the contractors are working, they have a standard procedure for blasting, and they're going about that with a certain number of whistles. They do a sweep-through of the basin, and get everybody off the road every time they blast."
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