Hot tubs, bears and trails: Forest Service gives update on projects

The U.S. Forest Service got to most of its Wrangell-area work projects this past summer, with one big job pushed into next spring.

The Anan Wildlife Observatory- which has reached the end of "its structural lifetime and needs replacement," the agency's website says - was supposed to be torn down in October, Corree Delabrue, U.S. Forest Service information assistant at the Wrangell Ranger District, said.

Tory Houser, the recreation, lands, minerals and heritage staff officer for the Wrangell and Petersburg Ranger Districts, said deconstruction and rebuilding of a new observatory has been pushed to spring, before the next viewing season.

The Forest Service split the project into two phases, an upper viewing deck phase and lower deck phase. Petersburg-based Rainforest Contracting will do the work on the upper viewing deck, a $900,000 federally funded capital improvement project, Houser said.

The Anan Wildlife Observatory's upper deck should be finished ahead of the July 5 to Aug. 25, 2022, viewing season, Houser said.

Before the pandemic cut into tourist traffic last year, the Anan Creek site drew about 2,400 visitors a year hoping to get a peek at bears during that two-month-long, permit-only viewing season.

The Forest Service is seeking funding for the second-phase lower deck through the Great American Outdoors Act, but will not be able to set a timeline for the work until the federal government makes spending decisions under the August 2020 law.

Next, the gravel replacement of a slippery boardwalk trail at the Anan observatory should be complete this fall, Houser said.

Replacement of the boardwalk is estimated at $750,000, Houser said, and was paid for through recreation fee funds.

"When people pay fees to visit our cabins, or visit Anan, or go on a trip, that money comes back to the Forest Service to reinvest into various projects," Houser said.

The work was contracted to Ketchikan Ready-Mix & Quarry.

The Wrangell Cooperative Association continued its maintenance work on the Anan Creek Trail this past summer, as it does every year.

In the meantime, work on the outdoor deck at the Chief Shakes Hot Springs site up the Stikine River, which consists of two hot tubs - one indoor and one outdoor - is anticipated to start next year around June, based on the river and tide levels, Houser said.

A higher river means easier access to the site.

"When that river comes up, we will all be ready to jump into action," Houser said.

The Forest Service secured $191,000 for the project - $11,000 from the Resource Advisory Councils under the Bureau of Land Management and $180,000 from the 2020 Outdoors Act.

The Forest Service partnered with the Sitka Conservation Society to redo the deck at the outdoor tub.

And the Forest Service is working on a smaller trail reconstruction project of the Nemo Saltwater Access Trail in partnership with WCA, under the $950,000 Nemo-Skip Loop Road improvement project contracted to Ketchikan Ready-Mix & Quarry.

The contractor is clearing out the trail and doing site prep, and WCA is putting the gravel down.

Work on the access trail is estimated to be complete at the end of next fall.


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