Photos by Klas Stolpe, Petersburg Pilot

From top, Skagway wrestlers Josh Cotton, Michelle Harris, and Ryan Forester display their best moves during a meet Oct. 21-22 in Wrangell.

The path to better trails

Improvements to the Upper Dewey lake trail were the number one priority at the Comprehensive Trail Plan Meeting held Oct. 19 at City Hall. The meeting drew participation and input from the City of Skagway, the U.S. Forest Service, Alaska Power and Telephone and the National Park Service. The meeting focused on improvements to existing trails and the creation of new trails despite lack of funding, which is the biggest obstacle facing future trail endeavors.
“We are blessed with some of the most unique trail opportunities in the State of Alaska,” said Mayor Tim Bourcy at the beginning of the four-hour meeting. He cited examples including hiker’s easy access to its trails, their use by varied people including a multitude of tourists, and the historical significance of Skagway’s mountainous footpaths.
Concerns for the Upper Dewey Lake trail drew the most concern from those present. The strenuous 3,080 foot hike rewards hikers with spectacular views of the Taiya Inlet and a cabin for overnight visits with a view of the lake. Bourcy referred to it as the “crown jewel of the Skagway trail system.”
“The trail is extremely eroded,” said Parks and Recreation Committee Chair Mike Korsmo. “The trail has got a lot of issues and it continues to get worse.”
City Councilman Mike Catsi added that the trail suffers from design issues and said, “if we are going to do it right we need to spend some time and money on it.”
“It needs a complete rebuild,” said Bourcy, who stressed that because Upper Dewey sees so much use that it should be the top priority of the committee.
Bourcy said, “Major rebuilds means major money. How do you achieve these goals?”
Catsi suggested completing the project in phases over time thus avoiding a large one-time expense. He also said that it would be a good idea to bring in someone who can offer input as the best way to proceed with the trail upgrades.
Matt Phillips of the Forest Service said that while the USFS is not currently providing funding for new trail projects, it is helping out financially with the redesign of existing trails. He said, “We want to be in the loop.”
The Forest Service operates a cabin at Laughton Glacier, which is available for rent by contacting them for reservations. To reach the cabin, one must take a ride on a White Pass and Yukon Route train to 14-mile and then hike 45 minutes to the cabin, which sits nestled in the woods not far from another trail that follows the top of a glacial moraine to the glacier itself and its spectacular “ice falls.” Phillips said that next year the Laughton cabin would be closed due to some work that will be done on the cabin and the trail.
Catsi said that next year the Upper Dewey Lake cabin would be available for rent through the Skagway Recreation Center and that it would be run much like the Laughton cabin.
The Upper Dewey cabin was vandalized on several occasions last year, but Catsi hopes that because “a lot of work was done this year to finish up the cabin,” it will be less likely to be victimized by criminal mischief and break-ins in the future.
Future goals for the trails are not limited to enhancements on the Upper Dewey trail. Korsmo said the Lower Dewey Lake trail has had problems with vandalism to its signs. Frank Wasmer, the City of Skagway Public Works representative said, “One sign was put up one day and gone the next.”
National Park Service representative Reed McCluskey asked, “Have you considered a more vandalism-proof design?” Adding that in Yosemite Nation Park sheet-steel signs are used for that very reason.
Recently the Lower Dewey Lake trail and Sturgills trail, which are connected to one another, have been improved by the Southeast Alaska Guidance Association youth corps. These improvements included extensive trail work to the switchbacks that lead to the lake and a lot of brush clearing along the backside of the lake. SAGA will continue its work on the Sturgills trail and they plan on helping with improvements to the Upper Lake trail.
One potential hazard still facing Lower Lake is the “dog’s hair” along the trail. Bourcy explained that dog hair is a term to denote dense, tight forest growth comprised mostly of long thin trees. If you were to stand beneath it and look up, you would have a similar view as that of a flea standing on the back of a dog. These areas need to be brushed out to prevent them from becoming kindling in case a fire started.
Other issues addressed by the committee included major problems with the Lost Lake trail, no longer identified on the official Skagway Trail Map. These problems include lack of an easily identifiable trailhead, necessary and overdue remediation due to a horseback riding operation in that location, and a number of issues with the trail itself.
While the lower portion of the AB Mountain trail is in good shape, added Bourcy, the top of the trail has become a scramble with no clear path identified. Wasmer said that the upper area could be brushed, but until that time, the upper part of the trail is a potential hazard.
Major work has been done by the Park Service to improve the Chilkoot Trail. NPS representative Ray Moore said that SAGA reworked steps on Saintly Hill this past year, all of the bridges that needed work were completed, and the trail has been rerouted around Sheep Camp. A big job that still faces the NPS is the revamping of log cabins on the trail.
Options for new trails to be established in the future were discussed including a possible trail to White Pass City and a route to the Denver Glacier trail. There is currently no official trail to either location however; many people access the Denver Glacier trail by hiking along the railroad tracks. All agreed that the Denver Glacier access trail would be a good one for both hikers and mountain bikers, but a lack of funding is likely to put the project on hold for the time being.
A trail to White Pass City would be a major undertaking so the idea is a difficult one to entertain at this time, and the Park Service still needs to do archaeological work in the area.