By P.M. Fadden
|Summer is synonymous with hiking, and the wilds of Girdwood’s outskirts offers options a’plenty.|
The meandering Trail of Blue Ice at glaciated Portage Valley offers a camp-friendly, Chugach National Forest trek idyllic for either cool-down laps or cruises with the kiddos.
Unspooling the five miles between Moose Flats and Portage Lake shoreline, Blue Ice’s alternating gravel and paved footpath parallels, at varying distance, both rail and road routes traversing Portage Valley. The “rated-easy” trail is effortlessly accessed from 10 CNF map-marked points as well as two campgrounds and one climbing site.
At a mere 30 feet elevation, the minimal-gradient trail suggests a trip time of three hours (dependent upon travel mode). Biking, walking or skiing are popular options and, bears, eagle, moose, hare or salmon might also be spotted.
Trail of Blue Ice consists of “extensive boardwalks and bridges over the tangle of creeks that crisscross its trail,” said CNF public affairs and partnership officer Alicia King. Both trail planning as well as construction date back to 2002 and have been influenced by both flood and avalanche danger mitigation.
“When we hit flood stage in Portage Valley it becomes very apparent which sections of the Trail of Blue Ice need work or re-routes,” King said. “Overhead avalanche threat in the winter has also influenced how the Forest Service manages this trail.”
Blue Ice’s most recent example of trail evolution is the 2014 upgrade at Five Fingers trailhead, a popular ice-climbing destination. There, the trail was rerouted to also gain elevation, in response to commonly occurring high water.
Onsite amenities aid in boosting this trail’s popularity.
Nestled amidst Turnagain Arm wilds, a Blue Ice trek is among the District’s top three most popular trails for its stunning vistas and multiple user group accessibility.
Blue Ice offers dispersed camp sites, restroom facilities, parking and distinct signage. A U.S. Forest Service visitors center at Portage Lake supplies up-to-date area information on trail conditions as well as its two campgrounds, Black Bear and Williwaw, which can be accessed from the trail or road.
“Workforces helping to maintain these trails, and their services, vary from fiscal year to fiscal year,” King said. “Currently, we have a maintenance crew of three – two paid employees and one seasonal volunteer. This three-person crew maintains all of the Glacier Ranger District trails.”
Paying for the maintenance is not cheap, but King said Chugach National Forest recognizes the need to keep the trail safe and useable.
“A portion of funding goes toward Blue Ice upkeep and improvements,” King said. “We’ve also utilized partnership money for groups such as Student Conservation Association and Chugachmiut crews to help with brushing.
“As well, there have been several Eagle Scout projects over the years,” she added, “and they absolutely contribute to the overall benefit of Blue Ice.”
While, officially, U.S. Forest Service does not encourage public passage during winter due to avalanche danger near Five Fingers, Trail of Blue Ice knows no annual closure months, and is used consistently year-round.
The eventual goal, King said, is to link the Trail of Blue Ice to the Seward Highway, where a roadside trail system has been under way for years.
- M. Fadden is Glacier City Gazette associate editor in Girdwood.