A waterfront trail that extends from the Portage Cove campground to Picture Point is in the works for Haines. After community meetings this week, designers are considering a Chilkat Blanket theme for the trail and other features to tell the story of the area.
At the first public meeting, community members broke up into groups. They sat around maps of the waterfront and laid out how they think the Portage Cove interpretive trail and park should look. Design work for the trail is happening as the first phase of the small boat harbor expansion gets underway.
Chris Mertl is a landscape architect at the Juneau-based company Corvus Design. He’s taking the lead on the waterfront trail project.
“Our waterfronts, as Southeast communities really define who we are. We really are people of the water,” said Mertl.
Mertl stressed the importance of getting as much public input as possible as the project comes together.
“The park and the trail need to respond to your input, your needs, your priorities and your ideas,” said Mertl.
The initial public meetings focused heavily on what stories should be told through the trail. That’s the ‘interpretive’ part. Mertl asked about what things are unique to Haines. And, what do you say when you brag about Haines?
“I personally think that interpretation is what’s going to strengthen the park and the trail, it’s what’s going to bring it together, be the unifying message,” said Mertl.
He said that’s what will make this project unique. Common themes raised by the public were fishing and hunting, native culture, art, wildlife, recreation, the beauty of our surroundings.
“If Haines were a tapestry, I think the warp and weft is the Tlingit culture that’s been here for thousands of years,” said resident Rob Goldberg. “And everything else is sort of overlaid on top of that. That’s the foundation of the cultural history here. And I think it really infuses everything.”
Lee Heinmiller mentioned the subsistence culture.
“People talk about the importance of subsistence and the fact that people can live here and feed their family basically without having outside sources of food,” said Heinmiller.
After the first public meeting, Corvus held two days of open studio sessions. That gave the public the chance to see what they were working on, ask questions and provide input. According to Interim Borough Manager Brad Ryan, around 70 people stopped by over the course of the two days. In that time, Mertl and his colleague Erik Jones developed a draft of their recommendations for the project.
Mertl suggested using the Chilkat Blanket design as a unifying theme. Corvus helped design a trail in Sitka and used a basket weaving design to tie the project together there.
“Using the blanket has great unique form line that’s very local,” said Mertl. “And you’ve got a great unique color pallet that’s not used elsewhere in Southeast Alaska.”
He also proposed three possible themes for the park which will expand on Lookout Park, which is set for relocation as part of the small boat harbor expansion. Those themes were a mariners’ memorial, native culture, and a working waterfront and community gathering area. The last one got the most public support from those at the meeting.
For the trail layout itself, the recommended path runs from the Portage Cove campground to Picture Point. That has generated some concern from community members worried about the trail running over private land. But Mertl said there’s a way to build the path without infringing on private land.
“The goal is to work within the right of way, to work within borough land. But if there’s people that want to be willing partners, because there may economic opportunities where there’s joint benefits, we’d love to hear from you,” said Mertl.
Many community members recommended extending a walkway on top of the breakwater in the harbor. That was included in the designer’s recommendations too.
This was not the last opportunity for public comment. The designers are planning to come back to Haines in six to eight weeks. And, they’ll soon have a project website where people can leave comments and feedback.