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By Dan Rudy 

Ranger district looking for feedback on recreation program

 

Dan Rudy/ Wrangell Sentinel

A view from the tub at Chief Shakes Hot Spring last October, after repairs were completed at the site. The Wrangell Ranger District will be holding an open house Tuesday evening to gather input and discuss the future of its recreation maintenance.

The Forest Service's Wrangell district will be reexamining the future of its recreation program, hosting a conversation with the public on March 15.

Part of the Tongass National Forest, the ranger district

manages USFS lands and amenities on Wrangell Island, the mainland and a number of surrounding islands, and includes the Stikine River and Anan Wildlife Observatory.

Ranger Bob Dalrymple explained his district will be looking at the current recreation program across the board, and that the meeting is driven by budget considerations. Facilities upkeep, seasonal employment and the like are generally covered through funding sources allocated by Congress, which have

gradually seen reductions in recent years.

These are further allocated to ranger districts based on usage and in Wrangell, Dalrymple estimates a 60-percent cut from 2014 levels. Other funding sources have helped cover recreation costs, such as special project funding allocated by the Resource Advisory Council from Secure Rural Schools.

"That over time has been used to do quite a bit of

recreation work," Dalrymple said.

Proposals are still being accepted for future RAC projects, which locally services the Wrangell-Petersburg area. In the past, such tasks have included trail maintenance, cabin refurbishment, and the underwater camera at Anan Wildlife Observatory.

To an extent, needs-based Capital Improvement Project (CIP) funding has also

helped maintain recreation facilities. CIP funds may be going into proposed

safety-related improvement projects at Anan, such as

relocating its latrine and

maintaining access

corridors.

"We're at the top of the list right now," said Dalrymple.

But not every project is

tenable, and the district hopes to hear from residents,

outfitters and other local user groups what amenities they value, and which projects they would like to prioritize.

"We think we know what's important to the public, but we think it'd be important to ask them again," he said.

One such amenity is the

district's cabins. After the reduction of one at Binkley Slough last summer, there are 23 cabins Wrangell Ranger District maintains. Fees are being raised to varying degrees for a number of cabins across the Tongass over the next few years, but some of the

lesser-used facilities may not be

maintainable in the future.

In an effort to make facilities costs more sustainable, Dalrymple said he would like to see more partnerships with user groups.

The Stikine Sportsmen Association, for example, has lately adopted the

popular Middle Ridge cabin, helping with repairs and

replenishing firewood stocks. And at its December meeting, the Southeast Alaska Power Agency board approved

adoption of two cabins in Wrangell's district, at

Eagle Lake and the Harding River.

In addition to the recreational value such sites bring to locals' quality of life, USFS facilities have a considerable impact on Wrangell's economy. Last year the Convention and Visitors Bureau estimated

visitors to Anan alone brought in an estimated $1.5 million during the summer of 2014, more than a third of all

tourism-related spending. Other sites along the Stikine and

surrounding islands are similarly valuable attractions.

The public discussion has been set for Tuesday at 6:30 p.m., at City Hall.

 

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