Forest Service, Trail Mix partner to boost Alaska trail and cabin repairs

A Trail Mix volunteer crew adds gravel to a muddy part of Juneau's Lemon Creek Trail on National Trails Day, June 4. The trail crosses city and Forest Service land. (Photo courtesy Trail Mix)
A Trail Mix volunteer crew adds gravel to a muddy part of Juneau’s Lemon Creek Trail on National Trails Day, June 4. The trail crosses city and Forest Service land. (Photo courtesy Trail Mix)

Alaska’s national forests will see more cabin and trail improvements under a new public-private partnership. A nonprofit group long involved in Juneau maintenance work is increasing its role in the Tongass and Chugach National Forests.

A walk along Juneau’s Treadwell Ditch Trail used to require tall rubber boots and a strong sense of balance. But most of the rotting log bridges and wide muddy patches are gone, at least on the most traveled stretch of the pathway.

Many of the improvements on city, state and Forest Service land came courtesy of Trail Mix.

“With funding from D.C. for recreation on the forest being limited, they’re trying very hard to work with partners. And we are a partner,” said Erik Boraas, executive director of Trail Mix.

The Juneau nonprofit has been in operation for more than 20 years.

It recently signed a formal agreement with the U.S. Forest Service to expand their work together to maintain trails and cabins. The work will be done in Southeast’s Tongass and Southcentral’s Chugach National Forests.

Tongass Regional Partnership Coordinator George Schaaf said Trail Mix will add to his agency’s efforts.

A Trail Mix volunteer moves gravel to a muddy part of Juneau's Lemon Creek Trail. A new agreement means the nonprofit group will expand its work in Alaska's national forests. (Photo courtesy Trail Mix)
A Trail Mix volunteer moves gravel to a muddy part of Juneau’s Lemon Creek Trail. A new agreement means the nonprofit group will expand its work in Alaska’s national forests. (Photo courtesy Trail Mix)

“It’s not that this agreement is going to be replacing any Forest Service programs or jobs. But the hope is that through agreements like this, we can make the resources that we have go even further,” he said.

Trail Mix will continue to focus mostly on Juneau. But Boraas said it will expand to more areas as grant and other funding becomes available.

“It’s the nice thing about being a nonprofit, we’re much more nimble than the Forest Service is. So if we are coming into a summer and make a list of the projects, and we’re, like, ‘Oh, yeah, we’ve got quite a bit,’ we can bring on more people. If it’s looking slimmer, we can bring on less,” he said.

Many Tongass and Chugach recreation facilities are in disrepair. Rot, fire, vandalism, weather and time have taken their toll on boardwalks, cabins and bridges.

“We’ll be working on trying to replace a lot of the old step-and-run planking that’s slippery. It’s cheap to put in, but it’s a lot of maintenance to keep it up and it fails fairly easily. So we’re trying to replace that with gravel, wherever we can,” he said.

Local and regional Forest Service officials will choose the projects. But Schaaf said the partnership will live up to its name.

“If it makes sense to them, if it makes sense to the partner, then they’ll go ahead and do the project together. If it’s a project that doesn’t make sense for one party or the other, there’s nothing that obligates anybody to do the project if they don’t want to,” he said.

Southeast’s Tongass, at 17 million acres, is the nation’s largest national forest. Southcentral’s Chugach is about 5 million acres. Together, they have more than 1,500 miles of trails and 230 cabins.

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