The Gastineau Meadows trail was punched through the muskegs (swampy meadow) in 2007. The wide trail sees only light traffic and is nice and sticky going up hill, but the sharp shale can be absolutely brutal on tires, puncturing an average of one tube per downhill ride. On one span, I popped five tubes on four rides. Popping tubes is one good reason to make the ride a loop instead of an out and back, and so is the the other 2/3 of the route.
The climb up through the meadows is worth every bit of the moderate effort to reach the Treadwell Ditch. Little brown puddle ponds freckle the green grasses of the meadows. Riders pass by skunk cabbage leafs growing larger then eagle wings and wild huckleberry bushes are a treat to anyone willing to stop and taste.
Bull pines in the meadows become Sitka spruce as the trail climbs and the mountainous terrain takes over the landscape. This is where the shale meets the dirt and also where history over takes the present.
The Treadwell Ditch was built by the miners at the turn of the 20th century when Juneau/Douglas was a booming mining town. Riding the ditch always evokes images of lingering ghosts waiting for a cart to come take him back home after his miserable shift. The ditch is a an old singletrack footpath paralelling the 100 year old rail cart trail that stretches a complete 12 miles from downtown Douglas to Fish Creek at the north end of the island. The rail ties are still there in all their decrepidness; moss covered, worn, sunken down, and weak from a century of decay.
The ditch is often convoluted by roots and rocks and is currently one of only three unmaintained trails in the Juneau area. Vegatation often thwaps at your legs and ankles and pokes your hands and arms from thistle-like Devils Club. Wash outs are one of the most common occurances on the ditch trail; well over three dozen opportunities to make carries and portages occur.
The challenges, though, are scheduled to come to an end in the near future as the ditch is slated for renovation completion by the end of summer, 2010. Many local riders hope and are currently pleading the case that some trails should not meet the same fate as other local singletracks; erasing the historic aspects of the trail with present day construction techniques. Rather, some locals are actively pursuing a resolution that would integrate the positive aspects of current standards and historic preservation.
The ditch trail ties into the Mt. Jumbo (Mt. Bradly) trail, at which time riders will hang a left and begin to descend towards Douglas or turn right and ride the 2x12 boardwalk trail through a 1/4 mile of gently ascending meadows and muskegs very similar to that of the beginning of the trail. Riding down the sloping boardwalk is a challenging mental riot. Wheels humm beneath the whizzing brakes and a sloppy wreck is always close at hand. If the conditions are dry, the boardwalk runs out into a thrillingly steep section of log stairs butted up against a long bridge over a gurgling crystal clear creek. At this point, the trail gets fast for a spell and then dumps you out above Sandy Beach in downtown Douglas.
To get to the Gastineau Meadows, cross the downtown bridge and hang a left towards Douglas. 1.35 miles later, there will be the Lawson Creek bridge, a cemetary, and then Crow Hill Drive, on the right. Turn up the hill and hang an immediate left and drive up to the gate at the top of the hill. Park here on the side of the road.