Berries are big this year and ripe now

EFFORT PAYS: Pickers who go farthest have the best to pick from.

August 9, 2010 

A berry-picker lifts some of her harvest from Arctic Valley.

BILL ROTH / ANCHORAGE DAILY NEWS Buy Photo

Sure, it feels like it's rained every day for months. Sunshine is but a distant memory.

But does that mean Southcentral's berry-picking season is ruined? Are we left with a bunch of sun-starved runts, waterlogged by July's 3.3 inches of rainfall in Anchorage, nearly double the average?

Not necessarily.

Late May, actually, was sun-splashed and warm -- though nine of June's first 14 days saw some precipitation and lots of clouds, according the National Weather Service.

"Actually, the period that affects berries the most is late May and early June, and I think we had some sun back then," said author and wildflower expert Verna Pratt. "If we get moisture afterward, it tends to form big berries."

Pratt just returned from a weekend at Denali National Park. She stopped in 2,300-foot Broad Pass between Mile 195 and Mile 210 of the Parks Highway. A wide basin that offers exceptional views of the Alaska Range, Broad Pass was full of berries.

"They were ripe and beautiful up there, and there were plenty of them," Pratt said. "There were some large ones, but that wasn't the majority."

Closer to home, pickers are busy on hillsides and meadows from Mount Alyeska to Hatcher Pass to Glen Alps.

Insects pollinate early, and they do their best work when not hindered by weather. Early June is a critical period.

"And later, when the berries are forming, we had lots of rain," Pratt said. "Water fattens the berries."

Perhaps the most popular spots in the Anchorage Bowl for bog blueberries and crowberries is the Glen Alps area below Flattop Mountain in Chugach State Park, one of the few places visitors can climb above tree line in a car. Rendezvous Peak above the Arctic Valley ski area is another.

But beware, good access ensures that those are get picked out earlier each season.

Typically, the farther pickers are willing to walk, the greater the prospect of a berry bonanza.

The south slope of Little O'Malley peak, Fern Mine Road in Hatcher Pass and the South Fork of Eagle River are all spots a bit off the beaten track.

For the latter, take Hiland Road to Mile 7.3 and turn onto South River Road to the trailhead. Go to the end of the boardwalk and walk uphill.

If you'd rather stick to the lowlands, try the Winner Creek Trail that begins near Alyeska Resort in Girdwood.

"They are big, and they are ripe," said Beth Branson, the summer manager and lead guide at Ascending Path, a hiking and climbing guide service based in Girdwood.

"On the Crow Creek Trail, I've seen folks bringing big baggies back full of berries back," said Branson, whose company offers a rainforest hike on the Winner Creek Trail on which clients pick berries.

"Funny, it seems like the rain makes for better berries," Branson said. "They seem bigger, though I also feel there are less of them than I've seen other years."


Reach reporter Mike Campbell at mcampbell@adn.com or 257-4329.


Nearby locations

Flattop: Seward Highway south to Huffman exit. Follow signs from Upper Huffman Road to Glen Alps Road. Blueberry Hill is just above the Glen Alps parking lot. For more blueberries, follow Powerline Pass Trail into the South Fork of Campbell Creek.

Alyeska: Seward highway south to Alyeska Highway. Hike up the mountain, or try the Winner Creek Trail to the left of the tramway. Hardy pickers can hike up the scenic 2.2-mile North Face Trail to the upper tram terminal. Fill a basket with berry and ride the tram downhill.

Rendezvous Peak Trail: Glenn Highway north to Arctic Valley exit. Arctic Valley Road ends at the Arctic Valley Ski Area. Blueberries, mossberries, crowberries and cranberries sometimes available.

South Fork Valley Trail: Glenn Highway north to Hiland exit. From Mile 7.3 of Hiland, follow the signs for half a mile to the trailhead. Look for low-bush blueberries in the open valley, out of the spruce.

Eklutna Lakeside Trail: Glenn Highway north to Eklutna Lake Road, then uphill 10 miles to recreation area. Travel 5 miles by foot or mountain bike along Eklutna Lakeside Trail to Bold Ridge Overlook Trail. Hike 1.5 miles up the base to look for berries in the bowl.

Peters Creek Trail: Glenn Highway north to Peters Creek exit, turn right; turn right at ski road, right on Whaley (becomes Chugach Park Road), left at Kullberg and then right on Malcolm Drive. Hike several miles in from the trailhead to find berry patches on the slopes of Mount Eklutna and Bear Mountain.

Seminar

Author and wildflower expert Verna Pratt leads a workshop on Alaska berries and late-summer wildflowers that includes a 2-3 mile hike, 2 p.m. Aug. 22. Limited to the first 20 people who register at 696-2108. $20 fee; additional $5 parking for non-members.

Blueberry festival

Celebrate blueberry season, with picking encouraged on Mount Alyeska. At the base of the hill will be two dozen arts and crafts booths as well as food vendors, live music and various blueberry concoctions. Enter the homemade blueberry creations contest, 11 a.m., Aug. 21 in the Alyeska Hotel courtyard.

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