City proposes new home for M/V Chugach
The City of Wrangell is applying to the United States Forest Service to give a historic boat a new home.
The M/V Chugach was one of 11 ranger boats operating in the state during the first half of the 20th century. Built at the Lake Union Dry Dock and Machine Works in Seattle in 1925, the vessel was assigned to Cordova for work in the Tongass and Chugach national forests. It remains the last of its kind in the USFS fleet, continuing service until last year.
The boat was restationed in Petersburg in 1953, it served from there more than 60 years. Over its 91 years in the water the Chugach has undergone periodic upgrades to its engine, onboard amenities and exterior, but its Douglas fir planking and white oak ribs and STEM have remained a constant feature. The vessel is 62 feet long and 14.5 feet wide, and displaces around 40 tons. Its current engine is a Detroit 6-71 diesel, with a 1,100 gallon fuel capacity.
The Chugach most recently arrived in Wrangell the first week of May for a needed overhaul, with work on its hull and decking. Nolan Museum director Terri Henson would like it to remain here, taken out from the water and stored for display next to the museum.
“I thought it was kind of a neat project to take on,” she said.
Due to cost considerations to operate and maintain the vessel, in June the Forest Service announced it would be taking proposals from the public to lease, adaptively reuse and preserve the Chugach. With its lengthy local history, Henson thought the boat would make a fine addition to the museums collection.
She has proposed that it be housed outside the Nolan Center along its westward greenway, overlooking Zimovia Strait. The historic vessel would be kept in dry storage, which Henson explained would help reduce the deterioration of its materials.
Signage on the boats historical significance and specifications would be placed for visitors benefit, and Henson thought the Chugach display could also showcase activity at the boatyard next door.
“People love boats and history,” she said. “It would make a good transition. If done right, it would be a good way to highlight the boatyard.”
In the citys waterfront planning sessions last year, one of the features residents proposed was an observation area there beside the museum, allowing visitors to view activity in The Marine Service Center without being in the way of workers. Though interesting to watch, contractors at the site voiced concerns about individual tourists and guided buses visiting the yard at the Port Commissions June meeting. Their primary worry was safety, with heavy equipment and machinery posing a risk.
Henson has suggested the possibility of building a raised platform around the Chugach, which would give visitors a good look inside the boat and make it easier to view the boatyard.
“People would be able to view the boatyard without actually being in it,” she said.
The proposed site could also incorporate display of the M/V Emerald, the 19-foot boat belonging to former Gov. Frank Murkowski which is already on exhibit outside the museum. Also on loan, that boat has been on display since 2012.
Wrangells proposal is among a dozen received by the USFS, and is currently under consideration. Ranger Bob Dalrymple explained the Chugachs future will be decided in a joint effort. It would remain the property of the USFS, which would still cover its maintenance costs. As it has been included since 1992 on the National Register of Historic Places, storage and upkeep of the vessel will need to meet conditions which would contribute to its continued preservation.
Henson said the application is still under consideration, but if approved the city would work with the USFS to find grant funding for a display. There were several sources she had in mind, but if those proved unavailable and the federal agency was unable to fund the plan, the city was not in much of a position to do so either.
“If theres not money available, then we wouldnt get to do it,” said Henson.
“I think the ideas good,” Jabusch commented. “I think it would be a neat thing to have over there.”