MMS-Mendenhall Montana Spaulding Trails

December, 2020

MMS- Mendenhall Montana Spaulding Trail- Vision Statement
“Connecting the upper and western Mendenhall Valley- from the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area to Montana Creek and Spaulding Meadows with one wondrous trail.”

Vision
The Juneau Nordic Ski Club (JNSC) envisions MMS connecting trails together to create a continuous winter cross country ski trail and multi-use trail system on the west side of the Mendenhall Valley. This would be similar to the eastern trails that connect the Mendenhall Glacier Visitors Center’s Trail of Time with the Under Thunder trails. Combined, these trails together would allow users to circle the entire undeveloped natural part of the Mendenhall Valley. JNSC envisions hosting a 50 kilometer ski race that starts on shores of the Mendenhall Lake, connects up to Montana Creek Trails and climbs up to Spaulding Meadows (X’unaxi) before descending back to the Mendenhall Lake.

Trail Description
New trails on the shores of Mendenhall Lake would connect with the Mendenhall Campground via a new bridge, and wind through the existing Mendenhall Campground groomed trails, crossing the Skater’s Cabin road to a new trail paralleling the West Glacier Trail. It would then head southwest out of the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area (MGRA), connecting to new trails in the Montana Creek Kaxdigoowu Heen CBJ Natural Area Park. This portion would bypass the indoor gun and archery ranges and wind up past the Hank Harmon Public Range to the existing groomed trails at Montana Creek. A switch back connection would proceed up the mountain using new trails on AK DNR land to USFS Spaulding Meadows (X’unaxi). At Spaulding Meadows the trail winds through the non-motorized area, and crosses the motorized area again and descends to the upper reaches of new Montana Creek trail and connects with the existing groomed trail and reverses course back to Mendenhall Lake (see attached map).

Problem
Crowding on trails- With nearly 700 paid JNSC members and countless other non-members that ski on the trails, snowshoe, school P.E. groups, walk, dog walk, or fat bike, the Mendenhall Campground and Montana Creek groomed trails can be crowded, especially on weekends. Potential collisions can and have occurred and with increased motorized use on Montana Creek, dangerous encounters are more common. With MMS, users would be spread out over dozens of more kilometers of trails.
Two sets of equipment- Currently JNSC has 2 entire sets of rollers, Ginzu groomers, and snow machines at the two locations. With MMS, grooming operations could be consolidated since trails would connect which would be a logistical and cost savings.

Existing Current Daily Nordic Trail Grooming Nov 1-April 30th (when sufficient snow exists)
Mendenhall Campground (and Mendenhall Lake)- USFS MGRA: Currently the JNSC grooms trails at the USFS Mendenhall Campground and the Mendenhall Lake (when conditions are favorable). Occasionally the short trail that links the Skaters Cabin parking with the West Glacier Trail head is also groomed. Groomed loops in the campground are 3 km. Mendenhall Lake groomed loops vary from 4-8 km.
Montana Creek Kaxdigoowu Héen- CBJ’s Natural Area Park and AK DNR: The JNSC grooms on CBJ land from the gated paved road at the Hank Harmon Public Range, down across the bridge, continuing the 100 yards to AK DNR land and to the end of the road at the turnaround. Trail distance is over 3 km. Due to the colder temperatures the Montana Creek grooming lasts weeks to months longer than the Mendenhall Campground grooming.

NEW TRAILS

MGRA Redesign Trails- USFS
Latest 2020 Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center (MGVC) redesign plans call for a lakefront trail that connects the MGVC, heads west to a new bridge that crosses the Mendenhall River and connects the Mendenhall Campground. Approximate length 2.8 km.

MGRA West Valley Loop Trail- USFS
A new loop trail that would parallel the West Glacier Trail and flow over several moraines before ending at the southwest corner of the MGRA next to the indoor gun range and indoor archery range. A conceptual loop trail like this was identified in the 50 year plan. Approximate length 5.8 km.

Montana Creek Natural Area Park Trails-CBJ
New southern trail connecting the new MGRA West Valley Loop Trail at the indoor gun and archery ranges. The trail would wind uphill northeast of the Montana Creek Road and at the Hank Harmon Rifle Range it would cross the road and run mostly parallel to the road and Creek rejoining the road at the bridge. Approximate length 1.8- 5 km.

Spaulding Loop (X’unaxi)- AK DNR, USFS
A new trail would climb via switchbacks from Montana Creek up to meadows at the 1000 feet level on the southeastern end of Spaulding Meadows (X’unaxi) onto USFS land. Connecting the meadows and crossing the motorized area over to the non-motorized areas, the trail would then wind through the non-motorized area. The northern portion of the loop trail would again cross the motorized area head down the meadows on the shoulder toward Windfall Creek before looping back to upper Montana Creek. Approximate length 24 km.

Biathlon Facility and Trails
A new biathlon facility with penalty loop and new trails could be part of one of the new MMS trails mentioned above. (There is a separate effort to create the biathlon complex).

Land Owners
This will require cooperation of the multiple land managers: USFS MGRA, USFS, AK DNR, CBJ, with trail building/maintenance assistance of Trail Mix and trail grooming agreements with the JNSC.

Timing
JNSC envisions a 5 year implementation by 2026. JNSC has envisioned access to groomed ski trails at Spaulding Meadows (X’unaxi) for decades. Swift cooperation of land owners, pooling trail building resources, and governmental and private grants would enable synchronous trail development at multiple locations. Phase I could be the West Glacier Loop and the connecting New Montana Creek Trails. Phase II could be the Montana- Spaulding connector trails.

Multiple Uses
Winter trail use on MMS would be for non-motorized users, cross country skiers, snowshoers, and fat bikers. Summer users would be any non-motorized users: walkers, hikers, runners, berry pickers, hunters, mountain bikers, geocaching, disc golf, etc. Running races including high school cross country running meets, and ultra marathons using the entire MMS- Under Thunder trails could be hosted on the trails. Spin-off mountain biking trails could be built off of the MMS trails.

Funding
Congressional (USFS), legislative (AKDNR), assembly (CBJ) funds, and private matching and in-kind funds will need to be dedicated but some other mechanisms are mentioned below:

Federal Lands Access Program (FLAP). Administered by Federal Highways Administration. Could be used for new trail development from Montana Creek uphill to USFS lands(?)
https://highways.dot.gov//federal-lands/programs-access/ak

Pittman Robertson Hunter Access Grants- Due April. Administered by ADFG. Up to $1.5million. Requires 25% non-federal match. https://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=hunteraccess.grantprogramoverview

Rasmussen Tier 2 Grant- Greater than $25,000 for capital projects. This could be more for biathlon facilities and maybe not trails? https://www.rasmuson.org/grants/tier-2-grants/

Juneau Community Foundation- Park, Trails, and Recreation Fund

Parks, Trails & Recreation Fund

Trail Specifications
Trails will be built to general specifications for width that allows use of tracked grooming equipment (~minimum 12 feet?), graded, surface hardened with D1 and gravel, and have sufficient canopy opening to allow snowfall .

Climate Crisis and Environmental Impact
With the climate crisis, warmer and wetter winters are happening now and predicted for the future. Snow lines will continue to creep higher. Having access to higher elevation Nordic ski trails like Spaulding Meadows (X’unaxi) is essential. Skiing at low elevations in Juneau is already becoming an endangered activity. And since the trails are non-motorized, multi-season users will enjoy MMS for decades/centuries to come. Minimizing the environmental impact of trail construction is essential.

Conclusion
MMS offers a big compliment to Juneau’s world-class trail system by linking up popular recreation areas in the upper Mendenhall Valley, the Montana Creek Valley and the mixed forest and subalpine meadows of Spaulding Meadows (X’unaxi). The new trails would add 38 km to the existing 6 km the JNSC currently grooms at the Mendenhall Campground and Montana Creek. This would put Juneau on the Nordic map for long continuous cross country skiing terrain comparable to other cross country ski areas that offer 50-200km of groomed ski trails.

According to a 2016 study, 89% of Juneau residents used trails in the previous 12 months and 78% ranked city trails as high or very high value to the community. People powered activity on the MMS Trails would further promote a healthy lifestyle, and development of the MMS should be supported by all levels of government. MMS would be a trail lovers dream for all users.