JUNEAU -- It is hard to envy Erik Boraas' job. As the executive director of Trail Mix, the very reason his position exists is because addressing Juneau's trails is complicated; the kind of complicated that furrows brows, promotes the banging of heads on walls and takes someone smart, determined and realistic to perform. But Boraas' mellow demeanor betrays the intricate symphony of his responsibilities.
Juneau has a large amount of recreationally active residents who take full advantage of the trails that snake and weave across public lands owned by three separate entities. Enter Trail Mix. Trail Mix was founded in 1993 with the purpose of collaborating with the City and Borough of Juneau, the Forest Service and the State of Alaska to maintain and build trails.
Boraas has been the director for two seasons, after one summer as the field coordinator. It's Boraas who knows what grants to apply for in order to fund bridge construction on city-owned land and how to obtain the appropriate permits to begin restoration work on state-owned land. He is also the one who has to balance available funds for a particular project with time estimations on how much trail work is left to be completed. He has to make decisions on whether it's economic to fly in gravel and other materials or whether the trail crew should make do with what the immediate terrain readily offers.
Trail Mix received about 100 applications this season for slots on the trail crew. Though there are currently seven people out sawing, heaving pulaskis and developing huge biceps, the crew will rise to about 15 once it begins brush clearing activities on trails later this summer.
The Trail Mix crew generally assembles in early- to mid-May.
"It's good to have them working all together at the beginning," Boraas said, though they may eventually break up into smaller groups. This year the team has already completed a staircase on the Montana Creek Trail and performed some landslide clearing on the Perseverance Trail. But now the crew is over on Douglas Island, on a special section of the Treadwell Ditch Trail.
Last Tuesday morning, Boraas, who usually works from his office in the Mendenhall Valley, began the approximately one-mile walk south from the Blueberry Hills access point toward the location where his seven-man crew was working. He pointed out muddy areas would likely be filled with gravel and noted bridges that public trail users had made on their own. He explained how Trail Mix generally uses hemlock from the local forest for the above-ground portions of the bridges as hemlock is comparatively rot-resistant, how spruce is used for portions of bridges that contact wet ground, and, if the budget permits, cedar is flown in from Hoonah for larger bridges.
Boraas pointed out wide corridors, difficult sections of the trail users had bypassed, increasing the affected width of trail. The crew creates turnpikes, uses fill material, works on drainage systems and a host of other means to make the trail more passable as well as discourage users from straying onto the tail sides.
With almost 500 public members of Trail Mix, "There's a lot of user groups, a lot of ideas," Boraas said. This summer, it's the bikers who are getting some attention.
The Gastineau Meadows Trail is a mile-long gravel trail connecting the top of Crow Hill Road to the Treadwell Ditch Trail. In 2010, the Lawson Creek Bridge was constructed on the north side of the Gastineau Meadows access point. The construction of the bridge increased traffic of that portion of the trail significantly. This summer, the Trail Mix crew is aiming to make the portion of the Treadwell Ditch Trail between the Gastineau Meadows and Blueberry Hills access points -- a section of almost three miles -- bikeable.
The Treadwell Ditch trail is notorious for its bounty of agility tests. There's generally an abundance of fallen trees to climb over, under or around, streams to wade through or cross over perched on a precarious dilapidated ancient cement wall and boggy sections that nearly require snorkels.
The idea that a three-mile section of the trail will be bikeable is quite a prospective feat. Boraas explained in response to the biking community, Trail Mix is making this section mountain-bike friendly for those at an intermediate level. The idea is to allow mountain bikers to continuously bike this section of trail without dismounting too many times, but also to keep it fun.
"For the most part, it's in great shape," Boraas said. "We just have to connect links that are muddy or missing bridges."
Boraas pointed to a steeper section of the trail knotted with roots. He explained that the crew might take out the smaller roots, but leave the larger ones. He doesn't want to kill any trees, and the larger roots will add terrain features to keep the trail somewhat challenging to mountain bikers. The same principle governs the rest of this section of trail. Not every stream or steep incline will be bridged. Areas that might be more biker-friendly but more strenuous for those on foot may have two routes.
The Trail Mix crew will likely move on from the Gastineau-Blueberry section of the Treadwell Ditch Trail at the end of this week. However, don't be surprised if you come upon an orange hard hart, chain saw, or portable radio hanging from a tree and meekly sending Bob Dylan and Bob Marley into the forest later in the season.
"You can always bring a pulaski to the Treadwell Ditch Trail," said Boraas.
Amanda Compton is the staff writer for the Capital City Weekly.