Juneau might be quailing under its first snow, harbinger of the end of construction season, but Trail Mix Inc. and Juneau’s Community Development Department are just warming up as they cast long gazes on the far future.
“So we did a giant public survey that ran about three months over the summer,” said Trail Mix’s executive director Ryan O’Shaughnessy in a phone interview. “We got about 1,500 responses. We got a ton of comments.”
The survey concerned what Juneau wanted from its trails in the future, what worked, what didn’t, what people wanted more of, O’Shaughnessy said. The results will form the basis of the 2020 Juneau Trails Master Plan.
A path toward the future
“The next thing on our agenda is meeting with user groups,” said Allison Eddins, a city planner with CBJ Community Development, in a phone interview. “We’re wanting to use this fall as a time to reach out to user groups via Zoom.”
The plan, a joint effort between CBJ, Trail Mix, Alaska State Parks and the United States Forest Service, will take input from a staggering variety of user groups, Eddins said. Stakeholders include anyone who might possibly walk Juneau’s trails, from sports clubs to commercial users who take tourists out on the trails, to Alaska Native corporations and groups whose land the trails are built on, Eddins said.
“This is their traditional land and they are property owners,” Eddins said. “We want to do those stakeholder interviews during the fall.”
As the interviews wrap up, the groups collaborating on the plan will spend the winter compiling the comments and data. By spring, Eddins said, they hope to have a draft for public viewing and comment.
“We’re hoping to have the final draft of that trail plan together by the end of April,” O’Shaughnessy said. “That’ll guide us for the next 10 years and be designed to be redrafted in ten years.”
After a public comment period of 30 days — or possibly longer, if coronavirus conditions prevent public meetings and residents are instead forced to use Zoom or other means — the plan will go before committees. After that, unlikely before summer of 2021, it will go before the Assembly for review and approval.
A banner year
This summer was a good year for Trail Mix, O’Shaughnessy said. Even as the coronavirus pandemic crushed many traditional summer industries, CARES funding and Juneau’s COVID-19 Conservation Corps were able to make huge strides knocking out the extant trail work plans.
“It’s pretty awesome, because we typically work with CBJ parks and recreation for our green list of projects to work on for the next few years,” O’Shaughnessy said. “But this year, because of the CCC, we were able to knock out the whole list.”
Work this year focused on the Horse Tram Trail, trails around the Eagle Valley Center, the Treadwell Ditch Trail and other public trails around Juneau, O’Shaughnessy said. The season isn’t over yet though, O’Shaughnessy said. The longer they can keep the work going, the longer Trail Mix can keep people employed.
“We want to keep people employed as long as we can under the terms of the grant. So, we’re getting creative about thinking about trail projects we can work on,” O’Shaughnessy said. “Right now we’re working to install some walkway foundations so if it does freeze, we can work on the walkways.”
Trail Mix has a busy summer ahead of it, O’Shaughnessy said, including work on the Point Bridget Trail, ongoing work on the Treadwell Ditch Trail, and a Forest Service Project on Admiralty Island.
“We’ll fly a crew out for two weeks. That’s part of local application of Great American Outdoors Act funding,” O’Shaughnessy said. “There was a call that went out for already-planned recreation projects. That was one of the regional projects that was selected.”
Trail Mix has had a good summer, O’Shaughnessy said, including working with Juneau residents who might not ordinarily think of working on trails as good work.
“There’s definitely going to be some lasting effects. The first thing that comes to mind for me is that with our staffing, we’ve definitely been able to throw a wide net and introduce young people to trail work,” O’Shaughnessy said. “We got kids right out of high school. We got displaced tourism workers. We got laid off hospitality workers. We got a huge mix of ages.”
As the planning for the future goes on, both Trail Mix and CBJ will continue to work to adapt the trails so the residents will get the most out of the natural resources seldom afforded as generously to other cities. O’Shaughnessy made the example of the mountain bikers, who were a quiet voice ten years ago but just finished their pump track at Cope Park.
“Who knows what outdoor recreation will look like in 20 years,” O’Shaughnessy said.