Juneau trail offers historical tour of forest

Posted: Friday, October 08, 2004

JUNEAU -- The Switzer Creek Trail offers more than just a walk through the woods. It's a journey through time.

In a two-mile loop, the path passes a wide range of forest succession, from old-growth stands to decades-old clearcuts. Documentation of the dates of various disturbances enables researchers, students and even casual hikers to better understand forest regeneration.

And it's all a bit easier to access, thanks to city-funded improvements completed by Trail Mix over the summer.

''As an educator, it has incredible value as a learning resource for the community,'' said Kristen Romanoff, a wildlife education specialist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game who helped five local students create a guide to the trail earlier this year. ''It has such a diversity of forest habitat, with areas of disturbance caused by windstorms, areas that were clear-cut.

''... You get a sense of what the forest looks like with different disturbances.''

The Switzer Creek Trail loop -- a lower section is known as the Richard Marriott Trail in honor of a former Fish and Game Department biologist and naturalist -- can be accessed from the ends of several residential streets in the Lemon Creek vicinity. Following the banks of its namesake creek, it winds upland in a gradual loop.

Work crews from Trail Mix, a local nonprofit that oversees trail construction and maintenance around Juneau, rerouted and resurfaced a portion of the lower trail over the summer. Deteriorated planking was removed and replaced with a hard-packed gravel surface.

Trail Mix also replaced one of the path's bridges. A second, larger bridge is slated to be rebuilt next year. The $50,000 project cost was funded by city sales-tax revenue.

Recently the city was due to complete installation of 12 numbered posts along the trail, corresponding to a trail guide completed by students from Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School last spring.

Isabel Bush, Anne Gissel, Nathan Ord, Cate Ross and Koko Urata, now freshmen at Juneau-Douglas High School, worked with Romanoff and Discovery Southeast naturalist Richard Carstensen to produce the brochure, which features vignettes for each of the 12 points, accompanied by the students' original artwork.

The brochure points out clearcuts from 1943 and 1968, a blowdown from an 1883 windstorm, old-growth areas and other areas of interest.

The students who produced the pamphlet learned a lot.

''I definitely didn't know any of that stuff before I did this project,'' said Ord, whose grandfather had helped improve the trail in years past with a 4-H group. ''It really taught us about that part of the forest.''

And their knowledge will be passed on to other students and hikers through the brochure.

''It's exciting,'' Bush said. ''It's really cool to think that, when relatives are in town, I can show them the trail.''

The trail is already seeing educational use. Auke Bay fourth-grade teacher Pam Cure took Discovery Southeast kids' groups on the trail over the summer, and returned a few weeks ago with her Auke Bay class and several parents.

''A lot of parents had never even known about the trail,'' she said. "It was nice to turn other people on to it. ... It's great to have a trail like that right out your back door.''

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