Copper River Record February 2017
By Robin Mayo
With the returning sun, there is more motivation to get outdoors on skiis or snowshoes, and explore some of our trails in winter. In fact, winter is the preferred time to travel across wetlands easily without risking damage to the fragile and essential ecosystems.
The Tonsina River Trail heads south from mile 12.3 of the Edgerton Highway, and goes about 1.3 miles in a gentle downhill, first to the bluff, then west along the bluff to a gorgeous picnic spot overlooking the river. WISE often uses this location as an outdoor classroom where we can learn surrounded by panoramic views, birdsong, and the spicy scent of sage.
There is a nice pullout on the south side of the road where you can park, and a small kiosk at the trailhead.
The first half of the trail tends to be wet in the early part of the summer, and of course with our boots we dig the trench deeper and wider, compounding the problem. I like to wait to use this trail until a good dry spell, or towards the end of summer. Or why not explore it in winter and avoid the mud altogether? Locals ski this trail fairly often, so there is a packed base to support cross-country skiis or snowshoes.
Like so many of our Copper Basin trails, the land status is a little complicated. The trail itself is on a 17(b) easement. Test time: who remembers this unique Alaskan land designation from my article several weeks ago on land status? Gold stars all around! In a nutshell, 17(b) Easements are special corridors which were created to allow access across lands that were conveyed to Native Corporations by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA.)
When I was researching land status for this trail on BLM-Alaska’s Spatial Data Management System, I noticed that the Ahtna region is the only area of the state for which the easement data is complete. Way to go land managers!
The easement for the Tonsina River Trail is only 25 feet wide, so please stay on the trail to avoid trespassing on surrounding lands.
This trail is a great one for wildflowers, and we often come across wood frogs. Kids always want to hold critters they find, but may be unaware that frogs have a fragile and very important slimy skin covering that can be badly damaged by handling. It is best to observe them as they hop about, then let them go on their way unharmed. I always try to imagine how I’d feel if a giant frog picked ME up…
Happy hiking everyone, and be sure to get out and enjoy the “warm” weather!
Copper River Stewardship Program 2013 students enjoy the view at the end of the Tonsina River Trail. Kate Morse Copper River Watershed Project Photo.
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.