SENIOR WALK – Sitka High School seniors walk through the halls of Xoots Elementary School wearing their graduation attire this morning as they are congratulated by students. The seniors walked through the halls of both elementary schools and the middle school this morning. Seventy-four seniors will be graduating in the ceremony which begins 7 p.m. tonight in the school gym. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

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Daily Sitka Sentinel

Summit to Explore Ways to Improve Trails

By GARLAND KENNEDY

Sentinel Staff Writer

As summer approaches and snow recedes farther into the mountains, Sitkans have a chance to learn the nuance of trail design, construction and maintenance from experts at an upcoming event.

The Trail Master Summit meeting hosted by Sitka Trail Works on June 3 and 4 won’t be like the public meetings the nonprofit holds to take comments on trail planning – this one will look at the more technical aspects of trail upkeep.

The weekend event coincides with the American Hiking Society’s National Trails Day, which draws attention to trail stewardship.

The Sitka Trail Works’ event will focus on the special challenges of building and maintaining trails in Southeast Alaska’s wet climate, Trail Works executive director Ben Hughey said.

“We’re celebrating by bringing folks together to learn how to be better stewards of trails,” Hughey said in an interview. “What goes into the construction of the trails is a lot more than it looks like as a casual hiker. It might seem like people just walked here and then a trail was created by people walking, but that is definitely far from the truth. In an environment like ours with a lot of precipitation, trails and pathways are highly subject to erosion.”

Because of this tendency of trails to erode into quagmires, a lot of planning is needed to make rain forest trails shed water without causing damage, he said. Factors include the grade of the route, the side slope and grade dips. Brief changes to the angle of the trail can be designed, forcing water to drain, rather than following the trail and eroding the whole pathway.

Because Sitka receives many feet of rain annually, Hughey said, water is “definitely the greatest design challenge in our environment.”

The informal route up Starrigavan Ridge, he noted, is in bad shape because the un-engineered route has suffered severe erosion and other damage, making some parts of the trail a mucky mess, while other sections are a gnarled jumble of roots where water has stripped away the soil.

Hughey hopes the June 3-4 meeting highlights the need for sustainable trail building in the future. Another prime example of water and weather damage is the Gavan Hill trail, a route that gains elevation on a network of wooden staircases. The popular trail has a charm of its own, but the stairs don’t follow the contour of the steep slope, and are falling to pieces in Southeast Alaska’s wet environment, he noted. 

Lee House jogs up a staircase on the Gavan Hill trail in 2018. (Sentinel file Photo)

“Meeting capacity is a constraint and the more structures you build, in general, the more maintenance there will be,” Hughey said. “So if you build a bunch of stairs with metal bolts and wooden features, those will decay; that’s inevitable… (But) if you build a low angle trail that sheds water and is made of a durable surface, it can hold up for a really, really long time.”

The June 3 and 4 event will be open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School multi-purpose room. Along with Sitka Trail Works, the U.S. Forest Service, Sitka Cycling Club, Southeast Alaska Independent Living and the Salty Spoke bike cooperative have partnered to host the event.

“The community should be empowered with this knowledge of trail construction, because it takes all of us chipping in to be able to take care of our trail system,” Hughey said.

Trail Works plans a slew of other activities this summer, from hikes around town to a formal grand opening of the northern section of the Cross Trail on July 1 at the Starrigavan boat launch parking lot. More information is available at sitkatrailsworks.org.

As for trail projects, the planned rerouting of the Gavan Hill trail is not yet funded. However, Trail Works will work on a short viewpoint trail at a popular use area on Harbor Mountain and conduct maintenance on the Salmon Lake trail this summer, Hughey said.

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20 YEARS AGO

May 2004

Dr. Arthur Cleveland, a former dean at Columbus State University in Georgia, was named the new president of Sheldon Jackson College, SJC officials announced today. He will be replacing C. Carlyle Haaland, who has held the position for four years.


50 YEARS AGO

May 1974

Coaching and managing the Little League teams this year are John Abbott and John Calhoun, ANB; Dale and DeWayne Vilandre, Alaska Federal; Walt Barker, Elks; Frank Simmons and Frank Vilandre, Lions; Leo Bacon, Pat Ness, Cliff Robards and Bob Edenso, Moose; and Everett Webb, Sportsmen. Head umpire is Carl Karpstein.

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