Chris Meade, a board member of Trail Mix and Juneau resident since 1991, uses a vibrating plate compactor to compress gravel leading to a viewing platform along the Kingfisher Pond Loop Trail on Saturday. (Mark Sabatini / Juneau Empire)

Chris Meade, a board member of Trail Mix and Juneau resident since 1991, uses a vibrating plate compactor to compress gravel leading to a viewing platform along the Kingfisher Pond Loop Trail on Saturday. (Mark Sabatini / Juneau Empire)

Trail Mix celebrates wild 30th birthday

Birds and the bears add ardor to outdoor trail improvement and cookout gathering.

Trail Mix’s 30th birthday was hardly a surprise party as staff and volunteers celebrated Saturday by rebuilding a trail. But a few guests who crashed the gathering brought some extra life to the occasion.

Two (perhaps three) bears, a couple of deer and an ongoing variety of birds that human participants were able to quickly identify by sight or sound all roamed near the Kingfisher Pond Loop Trail near the Juneau Police Department station. But while the wildlife gave workers plenty of opportunities for photos and conversation, there wasn’t much concern about bears or other creatures posing a threat.

“We try to make a lot of noise,” said Ryan O’Shaughnessy, Trail Mix’s executive director, noting group’s work often involves chainsaws, weed whackers and other equipment — along with plenty of chatter.

Trail Mix, a non-profit organization that began as a volunteer group in 1993, estimates it has maintained more than 200 of the roughly 250 miles of trails in Juneau.

“Much of Juneau’s hiking trails cross between land owned by local, state, and federal entities,” the organization’s website notes. “This mosaic of land management can create issues for trails that cross over multiple jurisdictions. In 1992, the City and Borough of Juneau recognized that a third-party group was needed to coordinate and execute the improvements and maintenance of our trail system. One year later, Trail Mix was born.”

Trail Mix workers look at Kingfisher Pond from an observation deck Saturday. Numerous wildlife sightings occurred during three hours of work to improve the trail around the lake, including a bear that wandered near the platform. (Mark Sabatini / Juneau Empire)

Trail Mix workers look at Kingfisher Pond from an observation deck Saturday. Numerous wildlife sightings occurred during three hours of work to improve the trail around the lake, including a bear that wandered near the platform. (Mark Sabatini / Juneau Empire)

The flat Kingfisher Pond Loop Trail is considered one of Juneau’s easiest at three-tenths of a mile long. But portions — especially leading to a bird viewing platform — need wider and better surfaces to accommodate people with disabilities, according to Trail Mix officials who scheduled the morning of work as part of the group’s annual observance of National Trails Day.

About 15 participants spent a few hours along the trail clearing protruding branches and undergrowth, and placing and compacting gravel at spots where ease of access was a priority. Wildlife observations were frequently heard in the snippets of conversion among the workers clustered in groups of two, three and four in various spots along the circular trail.

Kim Kiefer, a former city manager and Parks and Director for the City and Borough of Juneau, uses a shovel to clear vegetation from the Kingfisher Pond Loop Trail on Saturday. (Mark Sabatini / Juneau Empire)

Kim Kiefer, a former city manager and Parks and Director for the City and Borough of Juneau, uses a shovel to clear vegetation from the Kingfisher Pond Loop Trail on Saturday. (Mark Sabatini / Juneau Empire)

Not entirely definitive about the species of every bird spotted, but plenty knowledgeable about their general affiliations was Kim Kiefer, a retired city manager and Parks and Recreation director for the City and Borough of Juneau. Clearing undergrowth with a shovel about 100 yards from the pond, she said she tries to help Trail Mix at least once a year with volunteer maintenance after her long outdoor recreation career because of the impact the group’s efforts make.

“The trails are so much better,” she said. “Their 30 years of going in and cutting back so you don’t have to bushwhack and say there is a trail. Having that work compared to what I did (on trails) in 1971 is like night and day.”

The expansion and improvement of Juneau’s trail system have occurred at many levels, and involved a collaboration of government, private and volunteer organizations, Kiefer said.

“I would say we now have a trails system where we’re talking long-term where we can connect one trail to another,” she said.

Kiefer said her favorite trails depend on the season, but cited the East Glacier Trail as a consistent choice as well as the newer Horse Tram Trail near Amalga Harbor.

“That’s also a good one to do in the winter because it’s open and you can snowshoe it,” she said.

Aaron Angel, a former Juneau resident who returns sometimes during summers, prunes a branch as he helps widen a portion of the Kingfisher Pond Loop Trail on Saturday. He said he’s a frequent hiker of Juneau’s trails, but Saturday was the first time he volunteered to help Trail Mix’s efforts to maintain and improve paths. (Mark Sabatini / Juneau Empire)

Aaron Angel, a former Juneau resident who returns sometimes during summers, prunes a branch as he helps widen a portion of the Kingfisher Pond Loop Trail on Saturday. He said he’s a frequent hiker of Juneau’s trails, but Saturday was the first time he volunteered to help Trail Mix’s efforts to maintain and improve paths. (Mark Sabatini / Juneau Empire)

Another fan of that trail is Aaron Angel, a long-ago Juneau resident who now lives in Bellingham, Washington, but returns to Juneau during some summers to hike, bike and kayak. He was a first-time volunteer for Trail Mix on Saturday, clearing roots and other greenery to widen the path near its entry point.

“It was a chance to contribute because I’m aware of what they’ve done,” he said.

The 2.3-mile Horse Tram Trail, which has a long history despite being only a few years old, has a special warmer weather appeal for Angel.

“A little later in the season there’s a bunch of frogs,” he said. “Until that trail was in I only saw one or two frogs in all the years I lived here.”

Another first-time volunteer was Diane Mayer, Trail Mix’s board secretary, who moved to Juneau in 1981 and is now retired. She said she hikes daily because of her Australian Shepherd, favoring the East Glacier Trail because of its varying views and natural features at different elevations.

“This is giving me a lot of appreciation for what the field people are doing,” she said.

Making trails easy to access can involve brutally difficult physical work such as removing tree roots, hauling and spreading tons of gravel, building bridges and stairs over some of the most inaccessible spots.

Ryan O’Shaughnessy, executive director of Trail Mix, packs gravel down by hand at a juncture of the Kingfisher Pond Loop Trail on Saturday. (Mark Sabatini / Juneau Empire)

Ryan O’Shaughnessy, executive director of Trail Mix, packs gravel down by hand at a juncture of the Kingfisher Pond Loop Trail on Saturday. (Mark Sabatini / Juneau Empire)

“I think I’ve built around 24 bridges on the Treadwell Ditch Trail,” O’Shaughnessy said.

While the myriad of streams along the steep mountain range on Douglas Island could make traversing the path an expedition suitable only for experts, extensive improvements now mean “it’s one of the crown jewels of Juneau’s trail system,” he said. Many other trails are steep due to Juneau’s mountainous surroundings, but the 14-mile-long Treadwell Ditch trail has an average grade of about 1%.

“We don’t have any other trails like that so making that trail accessible to the community, and what it is, is a real accomplishment,” O’Shaughnessy said.

Also citing the Treadwell Ditch Trail as a favorite is his fiancee, Sarah Wallace, a “time-to-time” volunteer who worked for Trail Mix in 2020.

“That’s the one I worked on all summer and you can see a lot of improvement,” she said.

Trail Mix currently has about 25 trail crew employees that work four 10-hour days, sometimes camping overnight on longer trails and projects, O’Shaughnessy said. He doesn’t know how many present-day volunteers the organization has.

“I can tell you we have logged over 250 hours this season,” he said, noting their efforts started about a month and a half ago. The goal is 3,000 hours of work before snowfall ends the season, compared to about 2,000 hours last year.

Trail Mix Vice President Ron Bressette prepares fixings for a cookout for workers who spent Saturday morning improving the Kingfisher Pond Loop Trail. (Mark Sabatini / Juneau Empire)

Trail Mix Vice President Ron Bressette prepares fixings for a cookout for workers who spent Saturday morning improving the Kingfisher Pond Loop Trail. (Mark Sabatini / Juneau Empire)

Those helping out Saturday put in about three hours of effort before gathering with other arrivals at midday for a cookout at the road entrance to the trail, to avoid having the grill or other equipment damage the just-improved section of trail. They only completed part of the loop, so trail crews will return to finish the job, but for trail program manager Meghan Tabacek it was a chance to stretch by a little the number of miles of trail she’s worked on since joining Trail Mix.

“I would say at least 50, especially if you count brushing,” she said.

While the Kingfisher Pond Loop Trail is a quaint spot that contradicts its surroundings — including Egan Drive, the police station and the Capitol Disposal Landfill — Tabacek said her favorite local trail is the Breadline Bluff Trail at 21 Mile Glacier Highway.

“It’s really good for whale viewing, it’s way out the road and there usually aren’t a lot of people,” she said.

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

Ryan O’Shaughnessy, executive director of Trail Mix, explains the restorative efforts intended to make the Kingfisher Pond Loop Trail more accessible to people of all abilities during the group’s annual work gathering on National Trails Day on Saturday. (Mark Sabatini / Juneau Empire)

Ryan O’Shaughnessy, executive director of Trail Mix, explains the restorative efforts intended to make the Kingfisher Pond Loop Trail more accessible to people of all abilities during the group’s annual work gathering on National Trails Day on Saturday. (Mark Sabatini / Juneau Empire)

Mark Pusich, left, president of Trail Mix, and Ron Bressette, the non-profit group’s vice president, shovel gravel into wheelbarrows so it can be spread on the Kingfisher Pond Loop Trail on Saturday. The gravel is a special type that expands and retains its shape during wet weather, thus preventing washouts. (Mark Sabatini / Juneau Empire)

Mark Pusich, left, president of Trail Mix, and Ron Bressette, the non-profit group’s vice president, shovel gravel into wheelbarrows so it can be spread on the Kingfisher Pond Loop Trail on Saturday. The gravel is a special type that expands and retains its shape during wet weather, thus preventing washouts. (Mark Sabatini / Juneau Empire)

Ryan O’Shaughnessy, executive director of Trail Mix, and others helping the group improve the Kingfisher Pond Loop Trail on Saturday, head to the trailhead for a cookout lunch. (Mark Sabatini / Juneau Empire)

Ryan O’Shaughnessy, executive director of Trail Mix, and others helping the group improve the Kingfisher Pond Loop Trail on Saturday, head to the trailhead for a cookout lunch. (Mark Sabatini / Juneau Empire)

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