“It’s kind of hard to tell sometimes from photographs,” Jim Taggart says as he points to an aerial map. “This old cut line was almost completely overgrown by two to three feet of moss, so it wasn’t really suitable for walking on.”

Taggart and his partner Kath Selkirk, both outdoors enthusiasts, spent much of September surveying the vast network of active and dormant trails that weave through the Dawson City landscape.

The hikers were working for the Klondike Active Transport and Trails Society (KATTS), a community organization that has built and repaired five walking and cross-country skiing trails around Dawson in the past three years.

With those projects winding to a close, it seemed natural for the group to investigate other expanses of land in the surrounding area.

Money received from the Yukon Government’s Community Development Fund has helped KATTS accomplish its recent restoration efforts. In 2010, this financial support allowed the organization to hire John Bryant of the Dawson-based cartography firm Mammoth Mapping to guide the new projects.

“We’re hoping that this research will guide other development projects in the future,” says Bryant. “This fieldwork provides a shortcut to determine future possibilities.”

Two groups of two were recruited to document what appeared to be potential trails based on Bryant’s satellite images of the region. Taggart and Selkirk formed one team, and Evelyn Pollock and Cholena Smart were the second.

Armed with digital cameras, notebooks, and handheld GPS devices, they traversed different regions ranging from the Moosehide Slide to the mining grounds bordering the North Klondike Highway.

Placing boots on the ground, the teams found that many “uniform” lines described by satellite were not straightforward paths. Some turned out to be old mining roads, while others proved to be ancient water-bearing channels called flumes.

Some surprises were positive. “On the Dome trail, photos depicted a flume bed of unknown stability,” says Bryant. “Firsthand perspective proved that trail construction would actually require much less work than indicated in the photos.”

Old mining roads were some of the hardest to traverse. “Because the roads were cleared, seeds have a lot of light to grow there,” Selkirk observes. “Sometimes we were just bushwhacking through growth that was thicker than the woods on either side.”

Yet these overgrown areas yielded some intriguing historic finds. On their travels near Bear Creek, the two hikers discovered a massive piece of mining equipment with its ancient conveyor belts still intact.

Now the object has been quietly entangled within the surrounding landscape. “It makes you feel a bit better to see how nature can reassert itself after such devastation,” Selkirk remarks.

The function and location of these historic mining roads confounded the two on numerous occasions. Certain paths led to a dead end, while in one instance on the Dome, two trails ran parallel to each other no more than 30 yards apart.

“Were they rival miners not wanting to share the route?” Selkirk asks.

Bryant sees trail research as an important source of documentation for community planning organizations as the region continues to develop.

For Taggart and Selkirk, their reward was a glimpse of what might become a more common path for Dawsonites in the future.

They smile as they describe their moment of greatest hardship: traversing the dense willows along a flume bordering the Bear Creek Subdivision.

“That was the toughest going – it was like a tunnel.” Selkirk remarks. “But even then it was fun!”

The primary reason for the research is to “know what trails need work, what is out there, and what to look towards next” now that the Ninth Ave project is complete, says KATTS president Marta Selassie. The dream: distributing trail information on the web, and printing maps (pending funding) of the trail network in Dawson.