|Organization:||University of Alaska Southeast|
|Program Area:||Education \ Higher Education|
A fine natural laboratory close at hand
University of Alaska Southeast
To serve as "an open enrollment, public university that provides postsecondary education to a diverse student body. UAS promotes student achievement and faculty scholarship, lifelong learning opportunities, and quality academic programs." The enhancement and expansion of the Auke Lake Trail connects the university to the city park and and the University's existing trail system.
The floating trail - the only one of its kind in the state and perhaps the nation - was designed to traverse an estuary used by migrating waterfowl and salmon, in order to avoid impacting a stand of exceptionally large spruce trees near the water's edge. Widening and straightening the existing rough-and-tumble trail would have required extensive cutting among the trees' complex root
systems; moving it inland far enough to avoid damaging the trees would have meant building stairs
up a steep ridge. The offshore solution offers the twin benefits of presenting visitors with a clear view of the lake and its magnificent backdrop of coastal mountains, and making the trail accessible to users with impaired mobility by maintaining a grade gradual enough to make it suitable for wheelchairs.
The inventive floating trail is the end result of years of brainstorming and work by university staff, planners from Juneau's Department of Parks and Recreation, lakeside residents, and a host of engineers and volunteers bent on meeting the needs of a wide variety of users. Funding for the $1.3 million upgrade to the 1.1-mile long trail came through a potpourri of private donors, grants, and government sources, with the university's Chancellor John Pugh spearheading the drive.
While no one person can be credited with coming up with the concept, it might be fair to say that the seed that became the floating trail fell to earth and sprouted into fruition somewhere near James King, the current director of the State of Alaska's Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation. Under the prodding of his parents Jim and Mary Lou King, who were both active in the early years of the Taku Conservation Society, James waded in with a machete and began clearing the underbrush from the original trail twenty-five years ago, when he was still a teenager attending high school in Juneau.
James cleared the old trail, which skirted the edge of the lake through a hodge-podge of windfalls, muck holes, and berry patches, then went away to school in North Carolina for a degree in architectural landscaping. He returned to Juneau, and eventually became the director of Trail Mix, Inc., a non-profit founded in 1993 to bring together volunteers and hired crews to improve and maintain public trails on city, state, and federal lands in the area. Although James moved on to his current position after the design for the trail was finished and the bulk of the necessary permits in place, Trail Mix is still handling the nuts and bolts - or rather the chainsaws and shovels - of the operation. Since April of this year, according to George Schaaf, the new Trail Mix director, field crews have moved nearly five thousand yards of crushed rock and gravel (450 dump trucks worth), built seven bridges, laid a thousand feet of culvert, and worn out several chainsaws and a few backs pulling an uncountable number of stumps. Preparing for the project also allowed Professor Dan Monteith's UASE anthropology class to get some hands-on field experience in plotting historic human use of the area by documenting the remains of an old fox farm from the 1930's and identifying several ‘culturally modified trees' that show signs of use by the original Tlingit inhabitants.
The trail will give geology and environmental sciences classes from the university a fine natural laboratory close at hand and bicyclists commuting from nearby neighborhoods will be able to take a beautiful shortcut to commercial centers closer to downtown. In short, thanks to the efforts of a remarkable blend of public and private organizations, government agencies, and volunteers, the Auke Lake Trail is poised to become one of the most popular and oft-used trails in a community of dedicated outdoor enthusiasts.