Organizers say trails system would showcase Southeast Alaska

Posted: Monday, October 09, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- Organizers are hoping they can create a system of trails across Southeast Alaska that would make the region a world-class adventure travel destination.

The Southeast Trial System, or SEAtrails, would allow travelers to kayak from hut to hut near Haines, take a ferry to Juneau for some cabin-to-cabin hikes, then hop a fast ferry to Sitka to scuba dive along an underwater trail.

People might complete the excursion with a trip to Petersburg to bicycle along some marked routes.

More than a dozen sites would be linked by the state ferry system.

The plan is only a few months in the making, but it's supported by a coalition of local, state and federal agencies along with some volunteer groups.

Supporters believe the payoff would be some economic opportunities for communities sprinkled through Alaska's Alexander Archipelago.

''We have all these little jewels, but they're all little separate jewels,'' said Davey Lubin of Sitka, the force behind SEAtrails. ''The idea is to put all these little jewels into one jewel box.''

Lubin said he came up with the idea after making a couple of major paddling trips through the region.

''I kayaked from Juneau to Washington twice and thought here's this route that's first-class coast, and many people don't ever see it,'' Lubin told the Anchorage Daily News. ''Here's Southeast Alaska, and each community has something to offer. And each is having a hard time with its transportation systems.''

He took the concept to the Governor's Trails and Recreational Access for Alaska, of which he is a member.

The idea quickly caught the attention of community leaders, the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the state Department of Community and Economic Development, the Department of Transportation and the Alaska Marine Highway System -- all of which helped formulate the trail system.

Any paths through national forest that are included in the SEAtrails system could be given a priority, said Arn Albrect, a U.S. Forest Service program director.

Organizers plan to model the project after the Pacific Crest Trail, the Appalachian Trail and the East Coast Greenway, a 2,600-mile system running from Maine to Florida.

Besides promoting the region, the project can create better access opportunities for many communities, Lubin said.

''A perfect example is Pelican,'' he said. ''It gets one ferry a month. The idea could spur better transportation there so that people can come to utilize their trail system.

''It helps Pelican. Pelican contributes to the system. It's about back scratching.''

Frankie Pillifant, a Juneau Assembly member and transportation consultant, said SEAtrails offers communities an economic base. Travelers in the region will need guides, clothing, equipment sales and rental, food, transportation -- all things local residents will be in place to provide, she said.

Many communities have suffered mill closures, she said.

''What's going to replace that?'' Pillifant asked. ''Pelican is for sale. It's desperate.''

The plan would support small communities while enhancing the strengths of larger towns, Lubin said.

''Angoon might not be able to build and maintain a trail, but perhaps they could maintain it with SEAtrails funds,'' Lubin added.

Capt. George Capacci, general manager of the Alaska Marine Highway System, sees SEAtrails as a way to boost ridership, perhaps through 14-day or 30-day passes for SEAtrails travelers.

''It's another market incentive,'' he said recently during a demonstration ride on a fast ferry to Sitka. ''We have tremendous unused capacity.''

The ferry system would need to make some changes to accommodate the new style of travelers, Lubin said. For example, ferries will need to install kayak and bike racks and storage lockers, he said.

The marine highway system could add ''flag stops'' for kayakers, for a fee, Capacci said.

The SEAtrails steering committee will ask each community to submit a list of trails to include, then they'll create an information package, including trail maps, guides, brochures and explanations of the routes.

They also plan to provide lists of hotels, restaurants, bus schedules and other data so people will know what to expect at the end of a ferry ride.

SEAtrails also plans to maintain a Web site and promote the system nationwide.

''We have a phenomenal opportunity here, but nobody knows about it,'' Lubin said. ''Let's make it a premiere destination.''

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