Curious by Nature: Don’t eat the berries

This week’s Curious by Nature question comes from Jim Protz:

“There’s a small sign at the end of Perseverance Trail with a warning not to have contact with the soil or eat the berries in the area because of the presence of heavy metals from earlier mining activities. I’ve been hiking there and eating the berries for 25 years and just noticed that sign last year. Has that sign always been there? If the area is dangerous, shouldn’t the sign be larger and placed earlier on the trail instead of at the end, after one has passed most of the berry bushes?”

Juneau’s trails are maintained by a few different organizations, the City and Borough of Juneau being one of the main agencies. But a significant portion of the land Perseverance Trail lies on is actually owned by the state and managed by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.

Maintenance responsibilities for the trail have changed hands twice. In 1977, DNR assigned maintenance responsibility to the Alaska Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation. In 2006, CBJ entered into an agreement with the state of Alaska to manage the trail. Because of the area’s extensive mining history, part of that management entails working with the Department of Environmental Conservation to mitigate long-term effects of the mine tailings left in the area.

The sign Protz refers to is near a one-acre site where mine tailings were deposited in the early 1900s, according to DEC. The state has kept track of contamination from the mine tailings since at least 1984. Initial studies showed elevated levels of arsenic, lead, zinc and mercury in the tailings, which prompted the posting of an initial warning sign. Chemical analysis in the 1989 study showed that Gold Creek, one of Juneau’s two drinking water sources, “was not impacted by the presence of tailings.”

Plant succession, or the natural development of plant life, has not progressed normally at the site, according to DEC. Notes from city staff, compiled by DEC, show “stunted trees and vegetation” in the area. DEC’s Danielle Duncan keeps track of the tailings site for the state. Berry samples haven’t been taken on the trail, she said Friday, so the state can’t vouch for the safety of consuming berries in the area.

It’s a good thing to keep in mind that the entire area has been subject to mining activity historically, Duncan said. Because of this, it may be prudent just to avoid eating the berries from the area. The truth of the matter is that DEC can’t say definitively whether or not berries farther down on Perseverance Trail are safe to eat or not.

As for the sign itself, it was stolen some years ago, according to city staff, and reinstalled in 2016 after a city employee noticed it wasn’t up during a site visit in 2015.

• Curious by Nature answers reader-submitted questions about Mother Nature in Juneau and Southeast Alaska. Ever wonder why Juneau’s water gets so much murkier in the summer? Just how fast the Mendenhall Glacier melting? If the Fukushima disaster is hurting Juneau’s salmon stocks? Why your dog loves the smell of bear poop? Submit your question to and we will scour mountains, rivers, labs and university hallways trying to find the answer. Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at, 523-2228 or on Twitter @KevinGullufsen.

More in Neighbors

Staff of the Ketchikan Misty Fjords Ranger District carry a 15-foot-long lodgepole pine near the Silvis Lake area to a vessel for transport to Juneau on Nov. 30. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service)
Together Tree departs Ketchikan for governor’s house in Juneau

A 15-foot lodgepole pine was loaded onto the U.S. Coast Guard cutter… Continue reading

A still frame from a production of Tlingit “Macbeth” at the National Museum of the American Indian in 2007. (Photo provided by Sealaska Heritage Institute)
Neighbors: SHI to sponsor its first-ever juried film festival

Event to be held during Celebration 2024

The Dakhká Khwáan Dancers, who were named lead dance group for Celebration 2024. (Photo by Nobu Koch courtesy of Sealaska Heritage Institute)
Neighbors: SHI launches contest for Celebration 2024 art design

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) is holding a contest to solicit a design… Continue reading

Stacks of dog and cat food sit on pallets after being donated during a previous Holiday Cat and Dog Food Drive hosted by the Grateful Dogs of Juneau. (Courtesy Photo / George Utermohle)
Neighbors briefs

14th annual Holiday Cat and Dog Food Drive starts Dec. 4 From… Continue reading

A large foamy heart in a Juneau creek formed by decaying organic matter (dead leaves and twigs) at the Twin Lakes area Nov. 27. (Photo by Denise Carroll)
Art in Unusual Places

The Juneau Empire welcomes reader-submitted photos of art in unusual or unexpected… Continue reading

The author getting ready to host a holiday dinner for her family in 2022. (Photo courtesy of Patty Schied)
Cooking For Pleasure: Stuffed with turkey sandwiches? Try stuffing turkey enchiladas

Now that you have eaten all the turkey sandwiches you want, all… Continue reading

Page Bridges of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Juneau. (Photo courtesy of Page Bridges)
Living and Growing: Heartbreak Hill

Trying to write about beauty and our need for it is hard.… Continue reading

(Juneau Empire File)
Community calendar of upcoming events

This is a calendar updated daily of upcoming local events during the… Continue reading

A public notice about one of several Thanksgiving proclamations President Abraham Lincoln issued during the Civil War. (Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum)
Living and Growing: Give thanks with a grateful heart

Happy Thanksgiving! Once again we celebrate what is a distinctively American holiday,… Continue reading

Most Read