Chugach Ranger will be unwrapped for viewing over the Fourth

Plans to make the almost-century-old U.S. Forest Service Chugach Ranger workboat a permanent display at the Nolan Center are slowly moving forward, but until then the 62-foot wooden vessel will be temporarily on display for the Fourth of July weekend.

The protective wrapping on the boat will be removed by next Sunday so the vessel can be inspected and assessed in order to proceed with plans to eventually build a protective shelter and walk-around ramp for easier viewing. Those who want to see the uncovered boat will only have two weeks before it's put back under wraps.

"We have two Forest Service architectural historians arriving in Wrangell on June 27, Kathryn Buchholz and Ken Sandri. They will spend the week documenting the boat by taking detailed photographs and measurements," said Keri Hicks, the Forest Service heritage program leader, based in Juneau. "They will also assess the current condition of the boat."

Hicks said the assessment will help Buchholz and Sandri collect data to create a historic property management plan, which will inform the Nolan Center and the Forest Service on how to keep the boat maintained, retaining "her historic integrity."

Cyni Crary, director of the Nolan Center, said she is hoping to make the unwrapping more of a ceremony involving the Forest Service and other officials.

A contractor will handle the unwrapping and rewrapping of the vessel in a protective plastic cover.

The Chugach was built in Seattle in 1925, one of 11 ranger boats the Forest Service put into service at the time. The boat was used for 90 years before being retired. It sat in storage at the boatyard in Wrangell from 2016 until March of 2021, when it was moved to its present location outside the Nolan Center next to a display of the runabout Emerald, which belonged to former Gov. Frank Murkowski.

"The boat will be rewrapped approximately July 11," Hicks said. "We plan to complete the interpretive plan this year and we should be able to install some of the interpretive panels, but the rest of the exhibit will be on hold until the shelter, walkway and viewing platform are constructed."

Crary said the panels are 60% complete. The panels will contain pictures and written history of the Chugach throughout its 90-year run and will be mounted inside the center and outside next to the boat.

Since the boat is on permanent loan, the Nolan Center and borough are working on raising the funds to build the protective shelter, walkway and viewing platforms. The Forest Service paid for a conceptual design that provides ideas on what the shelter and walkways would look like and which materials are recommended in the construction and upkeep.

Moving forward on the project will depend on the report submitted by the architectural historians.

"It really depends on funding," Crary said. "The Forest Service is paying for the whole conceptual design, and then there is some money that's been set aside ... through the Forest Service. Then we're looking for grants and other ways we can fund it because the (borough) doesn't have any sort of budget for matching it."

The protective shelter could be built with roll-down doors for when the weather becomes too harsh, or it could be built with glass-panel walls so that visitors can still view the boat in the offseason. The conceptual design also showed options for a solid roof using various materials or a glass roof allowing for more natural light into the display.

Once the work is completed, Crary sees it as a valuable addition to the Wrangell Museum and its myriad displays.

"It's kind of the not only the perfect place for the boat to be preserved, it's an incredible piece of history," Crary said. "We're hoping it attracts tourists. I think it's a win-win."


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