Wednesday, May 07, 2008

No country for new trails

Date: May 6
Mileage: 42.0
May mileage: 210.2
Temperature: 47

One of the perks of using my mountain bike for the regular tempo ride out North Douglas is hitting the Rainforest Trail near the end of the road. It's not your typical mountain bike trail. The loop in its entirety is about 1.5 miles, and not exactly technical, per say. But it's fun to try to hit a flow down the narrow, smooth gravel. It descends and then quickly climbs a steep hill with some crazy tight hairpin turns, and the raised nature of the gravel doesn't allow for mistakes - if you drop off the trail, you launch off the bike. It's a good early season ride for me because it allows me to become more comfortable with my bike handling without a lot of obstacles. Plus, the destination is kinda pretty ...

So I put in three good laps on the Rainforest Trail, but the entire ride out there plus my eventual commute to work meant I barely had time for even that, less than five miles of trail riding, in 3+ hours of cycling. In this town, there's almost always a heavy pavement price to pay for a little trail time - emphasis on little.

Juneau has a lot of amazing trails near town, but none of them were built with cyclists in mind. Any mountain trails go straight up the mountain - emphasis on straight, with 60 percent+ grades that utilize tree roots as handholds. As for our coastal trails, they're either so primitive or in such advanced disrepair that they make for tough and technical trail runs ... or they're so overbuilt that a skilled rider on a road bike could coast large stretches of them. Since I moved to Juneau, our local trail advocacy group, Trail Mix, has completed a number of projects geared toward hikers - the kind of hikers who show up fresh from the cruise ships wearing Crocs and twirling umbrellas. Last fall, Trail Mix spent about $900,000 to blast a few wider sections and repair bridges on the Perserverence Trail. Their latest endeavour is a $1.2 million project to build a 1.1-mile trail along Auke Lake.

I'm not about to criticize Trail Mix ... they do a lot of good work. But when these projects budget hundreds of thousands of dollars to build short highways of trails, I can't help but wonder: What could mountain bikers do with $1.2 million? We could improve the 20-mile-long Treadwell Ditch Trail so it's actually rideable with something other than a Pugsley for the first four miles and a good pair of rubber boots for the rest. We could improve and expand the Dupont Trail way up the Taku Inlet. Heck, for $1.2 million, we could build a Lemon Creek trail to the icefield! Snow biking year round! But we don't have the money. We probably don't even have the interest. I would volunteer a lot of time to improving the Ditch, but I'm not about to initiate such a project. So I guess I'm part of the problem.

I'm not sure if any Juneau mountain bikers will read this. Actually, I'm not really sure there are any other mountain bikers in Juneau (Just kidding! I know you're out there. I see your tracks.) But, if you are out there, what do you think? Do we have the numbers? Can we build our very own trail?


  1. What about other organizations such as IMBA or a state off road cycling organization? In MN we have MORC which has done a fantastic job building new and maintaining existing trails.

    It must be wonderful to have access to these areas so close to home. The only way most of us can get to the primo trails here is with four wheels and a roof rack.

  2. I second Vito on trying to get in touch with IMBA. Our local MTB chapter has partnered with them and we're building sustainable trails without having to break the bank. The only thing better than biking soreness is trail building soreness!

  3. Jill, Aspen Colorado has a phenomenal trail system, and the folks who run it might be a good resource for you. Go here:
    and scroll down to " Open Space and Trails".

  4. Hi Jill,
    I'm an semi-regular Juneau reader, and a very irregular Juneau mountain biker, and I agree: that $1.2m could've been better spent. There are a lot of mitigating factors that went into that decision, but these are probably best explained on a long ride sometime rather than in a public forum.

    Speaking of long rides, I'm part of the local contingent working to promote bike week and bike to work day here in Juneau, and I'm wondering if you could help us w/ a little PR--and w/ a little challenge, too.

    Perhaps you've heard about this, but as part of our efforts to promote cycling, we're trying to get Juneau to ride 10,000 miles during the week of May 10-16. We've set up a group on to document our community's mileage:

    And we're working on a little program to capture the cumulative effort on the juneaufreewheelers site, too. While we're still a few days away, so far, not too many Juneau-ites have signed up. Won't you consider joining us?

    see you on the road,


  5. Trail Advocacy is hard, a ton of work but also exremely rewarding. Partnering with an existing orginization is a great idea as they can help you with the rigors of dealing with land managers and thousands of other issues.

  6. I looked at Trail Mix's site and I see what you mean, these folks are hikers, not bikers. IMBA is awesome but they partner with local advocates. They're not going to come in to your area on their own volition and without some yocals committed to carrying the torch. It sounds like Juneau does not have much going in terms of mountain bike trail advocates.

    As you said, if others stepped up to the plate and initiated the process and the projects, you would show for some work parties. But when you say "I'm not about to initiate such a project" it means you grasp the time and dedication required to be the honcho who gets the ball rolling. No, you're not part of the problem but you're not part of the solution either - yet.

    You and your fellow tread marks have three options; broaden the scope of Trail Mix to address the needs of the mountain bike community, start from scratch with a new club or do nothing. Tying into an existing not-for-profit that has deep trail advocacy roots and a full-time director would be the obvious first choice - if the hiking boots would welcome the lycra suits. Their website claims to address all trail user types and most of us bikers are hikers too you know! The potential disadvantage to hooking up with the Trail Mixers could be a cultural gap that causes many mtbers to shun it or a focus that suppresses the mtbers objective of expanding technical trail opportunities and linkages.

    Even if you're not willing to be a founding father of the Juneau mountain bike trail advocacy movement, at the least you might touch base with the Trail Mix Executive Director and get a feel for his/her interest and commitment to local mountain biker needs. The next step may then present itself and it might be one that you're willing to take or at least sell to another potential advocate.

    Whether as chief organizer or occasional work crew joiner, it’s a great feeling to know you’ve paid a few dues to the trail systems that play such a huge role in your soul.

    A local IMBA/SORBA group Trail Advocacy Director Dude in Tallahassee, Florida

  7. Read "No Country For New Trails" -- the smash-hit sequel to Jill Homer's first best seller, "All The Pretty Pugsleys."

    In stores now.

    Jason at

  8. Aucilla, everyone, thanks for the good information. Before I wrote this post I had never checked into the proper avenues for trail work, and really should. There may be opportunities, even if it's just joining with the Snowmobile Club to build the Lemon Creek trail (oh I hope, I hope they do.)

    And Kevin, I had heard of that 10,000 mile effort. I'll try to get involved. I didn't realize it was this coming week. I could have pushed an article for the Empire. It may be too late now, but I will look into it.

    Hope to see you out there.

  9. Great! Thanks, Jill. We got a Neighbors piece last week, but I'm not sure if there's anything else in the pipes.

    As many bikes as I've seen on the road of late, I think we can probably actually do 10K, but that's only if the weather holds. If it doesn't, I hope you've got a big "base" week on the training plan...

    I was looking at your previous posts just now and it occurs to me that there are surely Freewheelers with both wrench skills and a desire to help you get some new cables installed. I'd volunteer, but I'm terrible with indexed shifting. I sit there w/ Zinn and the Art, shifting, spinning, turning limit screws, shifting, spinning, and finally losing it and picking up a six pack and heading to a friend's house. The key is to buy high-end components so you don't have to adjust them too often.

    Anyway, there's no shortage of closet bike nuts in this town, you just have to seek them out.


  10. Jill, this is my first season of biking in Juneau, and already Im feeling the same way. A fraction of that trailmix money could go towards repairs to treadwell, a nice singletrack loop with cyclists in mind, etc. I'd be in full support of getting some voices heard, but as more of a follower, I cant see myself starting any fires anytime soon. BTW, In response to your repair woes, if I can be of assistance, I pride myself on being an at least amateur home mech... better than 3 weeks of waiting at Glacier i suppose.

  11. aip84,

    Yes, sometime we'll have to form a mountain biking, trail-building collective. If we can get enough people involved, we can recruit a leader :-)

    So, you can do a little wrenching, eh? I'd love some help. Really, really love some help. Just to watch somebody work through the process would be a huge step toward self sufficiency, I think. If you're willing, shoot me an e-mail with your contact information.

  12. Hi Jill --

    Thanks for your blog, and your thoughts on trails and biking in Juneau.

    Trail Mix applied in February for almost $700,000 in federal funding to rehabilitate the City's portion of the Treadwell Ditch Trail, and we are pursuing additional money to fix up the Forest Service's section as well.

    The Treadwell Ditch Trail has been a very high priority for Trail mix since at least the early 1990s, but we've been unable to do any substantial work until a comprehensive archaeological review could be completed by the Forest Service. That report was finished this winter after more than five years of effort.

    That's not to say progress has not been made on improving access to the Treadwell Ditch: Since 2002, we have upgraded several spur trails and just last year completed a brand new trail leading from Crow Hill to Lawson Creek.

    Later this summer, Trail Mix will host a series of neighborhood meetings to get input on what kind of improvements folks would like to see on the trail. I hope you can come!

    In the meantime, please feel free to get in touch any time.

    George Schaaf
    Executive Director (Trail Mix, Inc.)

  13. Just one more thing to help clarify the discussion a bit:

    The Auke Lake Trail is being funded largely through private donations and the support of organizations like the Rasmuson Foundation and the Alaska Trails Initiative. Public funding (through CBJ) accounts for about $175,000 of the $1.3 million cost.

    The balance was assembled through a tremendous fundraising effort by the University of Alaska Southeast; Trail Mix did not apply for or receive any of the grants.

    As for Trail Mix, we seek to represent the interests of all trail users, including mountain bikers. We get our direction from our membership and the public, and our monthly meetings are open to everyone (7 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of the month at the downtown library).

    I strongly encourage everyone to attend, or share your thoughts with me by calling 790-6406 or sending an email to

    Thanks again for the great blog, Jill!

    George Schaaf
    Trail Mix, Inc.


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