BY MICHAEL ARMSTRONG
Whether during the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival, on one of the Kachemak Bay Research Reserve summer guided walks or a sunny stroll in the winter from town to Bishop’s Beach, the Beluga Slough Trail has been a popular hike along one of Homer’s special wild places.
It’s a hike that required a little fancy footwork, though. The old plastic trail, designed to float on the highest high tide, wound up settling on the mud, and over the years turned into a topsy-turvy walk.
Except for about a 100-foot section at the northern start of the trail, a new 1,000-foot trail was finished this fall. With steel pilings screwed into the wetlands and a wood and galvanized-steel grate deck, the Beluga Slough Trail is flat, solid, wide and Americans With Disabilities Act accessible.
“It’s a stout trail that’s not going anywhere,” said Homer Public Works Director Carey Meyer.
Built by Jay-Brant General Contractors of Homer, the $621,000 trail was mostly paid for by a $448,000 Alaska Community Coastal Impact Assistance Program grant to restore habitat and wetlands. Although well intentioned, the old modular plastic trail sat on wetlands.
“By elevating the trail, the wetlands will be restored,” Meyer said.
“There will be vegetation under the trail and alongside it. That’s good for the wetlands and the wildlife that lives there.”
One 200-foot stretch is a gravel pad past the dead end of east Bunnell Avenue, one of the access points to the trail. The gravel pad allows Public Works vehicles access to clear a city storm drain that ends at the slough. The rest is the new elevated trail. A 100-foot stretch from the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center is the old plastic modular section.
“The money just ran out,” Meyer said.
When the city finds money to fix that section, it will eventually be replaced. The city did $30,000 in design work using money from the Homer Accelerated Roads and Trails, or HART, fund, an account partially supported by a ¾-percent sales tax. Ten percent of the HART fund goes to trail work like the Beluga Slough Trail.
Jay-Brant General Contractors won the contract. Steiner’s North Star Construction was the subcontractor that did that deck and grate construction.
East End Services did excavating and gravel work for the Bunnell Avenue section and Techno Metal Post Alaska put in the pilings. Those pilings are a helical post put in by a light tracked vehicle that could maneuver on the slough over a temporary wood trail.
“It just screws in like a screw into a piece of wood,” said Dave Northup, owner of Techno Metal Post Alaska.
Techno Metal Post put in exactly 200 10-foot posts, bored in from 8 to 10-feet down, well below the frost line. Helical flanges keep frost from pushing up the post.
Bob Brant of Jay-Brant said the Techno Metal Post system made putting piles in wetlands affordable and less disturbing. Because the posts were screwed in, soil didn’t have to be dug up as with sonotube posts.
Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center staff are designing and making interpretive signs to go at side viewing stations along the trail. Those will explain the importance of wetlands and the kinds of wildlife that can be seen in the slough.
Migrating and nesting birds visit the slough in the spring and summer, and wildlife such as moose and even coyotes pass through. During the sandhill crane migrations, hundreds of cranes will stop on their way to nesting sites around Kachemak Bay.
It also is a stop for greater white-fronted and lesser Canada geese as well as shorebirds.
Important to keeping costs down was a volunteer effort last fall to tear up the old trail. Staff from Islands and Ocean, Homer Parks and Recreation and Public Works donated time, as did general volunteers. The plastic caught fire and smoldered at one point when heat from cutting away bolts spread to the plastic. Firefighters put out the fire.
“There were a couple of times in the removal process when we were knee deep in mud we wondered if we shouldn’t burn the whole thing down,” Meyer said, joking.
The plastic sections were salvaged, though, and will be used in other trails projects in less-sensitive areas. If not used, they will eventually be sold as surplus city property.
Unlike the old trail, the new one should last for decades. Meyer said Ray Steiner of Steiner’s North Star Construction told him he could imagine the trail being around long enough his grandchildren will some day walk their children on the trail.
“It’s a huge improvement,” Brant said. “You’re walking over the wetland now instead of impacting it — and it’s flat and safe.”
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Beluga Slough Trail
1,000-foot trail reconstruction
840-foot elevated trail
230-foot gravel trail
$33,000 city support (Homer Accelerated Roads and Trails fund)
$80,000 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
$448,000 Alaska and Community Coastal Impact Assistance Program
$60,000 Kenai Peninsula Borough grant
Jay-Brant General Contractors
Techno Metal Post Alaska, subcontractor, metal pilings
Steiner’s North Star, subcontractor, decking and grating
East Road Services, subcontractor, excavating
Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center
East Bunnell Avenue
Bishop’s Beach park and parking lot
“It’s a huge improvement.
You’re walking over the wetland now instead of impacting it — and it’s flat and safe.”
— Bob Brant