Treadwell Ditch Overview
Once a bustling water transit system for a handful of vital hydroelectric facilities associated with the Treadwell Mining Company back in 1882-1899, this National Register eligible historic property was the jewel trail works project for the Forest Service and City/Borough of Juneau back in the 1980's. Unfortunately, the popular recreation trail has mostly gone the way of history and seems utterly neglected since then. Bridges are merely shambles of original works, or as so often the case, washed out completely while plastic culverts have only increased trail erosion in numerous locations. One section of trail is so bad, there is a temporary 0.4 mile detour where a scratch route wanders up through muskegs and is only visible by pink flagging when it snows. After seeing the trail firsthand for potentially the last time, my recommendation is for bridges only and no more plastic culverts. Let erosion take its toll, yet extend the crossings far enough to where hikers and bikers will not be affected.
Trail DescriptionFirst of all, I would like to dedicate this trail to my wife because without her dropping me off at Eaglecrest Ski Area, this ride would have not of taken place. Thanks, Shana!! :)
"The Ditch" is a historic trail located on Douglas Island that begins at an elevation of 950' in the Fish Creek drainage in the muskeg meadows 1.1 miles SE of Eaglecrest Ski Area. The ditch and trail trend NW for about 2.75 miles along the SW facing slopes of Saddle Mountain and Mt Anderson before meandering S/SW towards Douglas and gradually descending to an elevation of 450' above sea level. That equates to a consistent 7/10ths of one percent downward gradient from beginning to end. At one time, this fully functioning flume served water and hydroelectric projects throughout the area. From tent cities to pump stations and power plants, this puppy was the vein that all others tapped for water and energy.
Descending the ditch trail will tap your energy resources too. The ditch is brutal and I would not be off my rocker to guess that I had to hop off and hike my bike over 100 times, covering a distance of about two miles overall. The trail parallels uphill slopes the entire way, so the must be on constant guard not to slip off the downhill side of the trail out of control. That could be potentially devastating, especially for solo riders like myself. But the trail is so demanding that strength dissipates and the front or back tire slips off the trail dozens of times causing the rider to either skid or slam to a stop, therefore hindering a worst scenario from happening.
My worst situation occurred when my front tire got stuck while trying to turn uphill. Momentum threw my body weight backwards, headfirst, in a clockwise spin toward the downhill side of the trail on my left. In an attempt to hinder the fall, my left arm reached out and grabbed the only thing within reach, a six inch thick tree on the left hand side of the trail. My left foot stepped off into the abyss as my right leg flung off the bike like a roundhouse karate kick. Lastly, I never let go of the bike's right hand grip and so, it too, tail-whipped off the trail in an effort to careen down the mountainside. Perfectly safe, I regained my footing, pulled the bike up onto the trail, and reset myself to ride off again.
Dirty rock piles litter the trail and are apart of a rubble berm that supported the original flume. Root systems splinter the trail and seem to be the most difficult and constant hazard, but wash outs and other trail irregularities seem to exist around every bend! Thankfully, all downed trees that fall across the trail are logged out in the early summer season. Two avalanche zones force riders to walk their bikes for a minute or so, but besides that, there is one crossing that is a 15 foot balance beam only six inches across!! At 10 feet above the ground, this is as sketchy as it gets anywhere. I chose to inch my way across the wet and slippery log with my bike in my right hand while I attempted to document the crossing with a picture from my left. "What am I thinking," I remember thinking to myself. Well, what can I say? I love mbpost.
There are numerous natural and historical interests along the trail. Alder, birch, and spruce groves forest the mountainsides and beneath them, an amazon of vegetation. Devil's club, salmon berry and false huckleberry bushes, bunch berry, mosses, and other tangle for the right to live. An old mine shaft enters the mountain right off the trail, there are several nonfunctional dams, a monster boulder known locally as "the wall", and several cross trusses that span the ditch are but a few of the features that continually beckon ones interest.