June 13, 2013 | Volume 43, Number 23

Mountaineer Swift recounts early trail-maintenance efforts

There wasn’t much of a hiking culture when Paul Swift, 76, came to Haines in the early 1970s.

“The town was geared to industry. Logging, mining and fishing... most guys were work- oriented,” Swift said.

Swift talked about clearing the Mount Ripinsky trail at a presentation June 1 at the Sheldon Museum. He also spoke during an interview.

Cut in by the Army in 1906, the trail formerly stretched from the Skyline Subdivision trailhead to the mountain’s summit. When Fort Seward was decommissioned in 1948, the path fell into disuse and became overgrown.

Resident Margaret Piggott’s book, “Discovering Southeast Alaska with Pack and Paddle,” published in 1975, rekindled interest in the trail, which has since been written about in at least two other publications.

Swift and Dick Folta, another interested outdoorsman, recut the trail during a long summer. Swift said his youngest daughter scouted the trail ahead while his oldest son David did much of the work, helping him and Folta cut brush during the evenings.

Interest in the trail grew slowly. Before the advent of lightweight snowshoes, hikers used it mostly in summer. As technology changed, so did numbers of hikers. Swift said he has spoken to numerous people who have described the Mount Ripinsky hike as “one of the most beautiful trails they’ve ever walked.”

An estimated 5-6,000 people have written their names in the register on Ripinsky’s summit since the mid-1970s, a register Swift helped place. Their names come from all over the world, reflecting a wide interest in the trail.

Swift grew up hiking. In his home state of Maryland, his family hiked in Shenandoah National Park and the Appalachian Mountains.

Swift worked for the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey in all 50 states, including jobs where he climbed mountains to provide exact latitude and longitude points for maps. The brass-cap summit markers on the tops of mountains were put in by surveyors like Swift. Mount Ripinsky’s marker was placed there in 1925.

Swift brought this passion with him to Haines when he transferred into the Civilian Department to work for the Haines-Fairbanks military pipeline. Even now he tries to get in a hike every other day, he said.

With the help of volunteers, Swift and wife Annie Boyce maintain what he calls “the Mount Ripinsky traverse,” the length of trail from Skyline to 7 Mile. Swift said he’d like to see good maintenance for the trails around Haines and a few more lower-elevation viewpoints.

Also, there are places on the traverse he says are harder to walk on for less adept hikers.

The evening also included discussion of trail maintenance and suggestions for new trails by community members and comments from representatives of the Sheldon Museum’s Walk and Talk program, Well and Fit Community Council, Lynn Canal Conservation, and the Borough Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee.

The need for new trails was emphasized by several community members.

The Battery Point and Mount Riley trails were created in the early 1980s, using state Roads and Trails funds, said resident Dave Nanney, who oversaw the projects for the Haines Borough.