Forest Service gathering public input on possible new cabin sites

The U.S. Forest Service is looking to build a few new public-use recreational cabins in the Wrangell and Petersburg area, hoping to use federal infrastructure funding to pay for the work and considering sites that would be easier for people to reach.

The site selection process has been underway for a few years, with the latest round of public comment closing July 6.

Past suggestions have included a site several miles south of town along Zimovia Highway, Fools Inlet and a site near the southern end of Wrangell Island, Anita Bay and Burnett Inlet on Etolin Island, Snow Pass and Mustang Lake on Zarembo Island, and Paradise Cove on Woronkofski Island.

There are 23 existing cabins in the Wrangell district and 19 in Petersburg, many of which take some effort to reach.

“Historically, the demand was for the remote experience, fly-in cabins or long hikes or thing upriver in the wilderness,” said Clint Kolarich, Forest Service district ranger in Wrangell. “The traditional way to enjoy the outdoors is shifting from less remote locations to slightly more convenient locations.”

Despite that many of the cabins are in remote locations in the Tongass National Forest (144 cabins in total), around 18,000 people used the cabins over 2019 and 2020, according to Tory Houser, Forest Service program manager in Wrangell.

One of the more popular sites in Wrangell is Middle Ridge Cabin, due to its ease of access by road. Houser said one of the suggestions is to build a cabin at High Bush Lake, which is also accessible by road.

“The recreation staff and resource specialists have to go out and look at these sites to help determine the best ones to carry forward in the short term as proposals for the (federal) Bipartisan Infrastructure Law,” Houser said. That law provides funding specifically for Forest Service cabins in Alaska.

The number of cabins and the types of amenities included with each will depend on how much of those funds can be secured.

“I don’t know how much money will be allocated across the districts,” Kolarich said. “We wanted to start the comment period early so we could look at the public input to be as responsive to implement as many of those as possible. We will have to wait and see.”

Further planning also depends on the results of the agency’s environmental review, to see what kind of impact new cabins would have in the new locations.

Proposals are due to the national office by July 18, Houser said

Houser said the Forest Service will also have to do a survey and design for each site to prepare contracts for construction crews. “These processes take time, but they are essential to ensuring that the project will not negatively affect forest resources and is safe and enjoyable for public users. Then we have to do the actual work of constructing the cabin.”

Adding more accessible cabins will also create a more affordable experience for users, according to the agency.

“With changes in user preferences and demographics over the past 20 years, many of these cabins are becoming less accessible, or desirable, to potential users,” according to a Forest Service explanation of the effort. In addition, remote cabins are more costly to reach and more expensive to maintain,” the agency reported.

“At the same time, there has been an increasing demand on those cabins which meet contemporary user interests.”

“We’re out of balance, in my opinion, with the remote and more accessible locations,” Kolarich said. “I’m glad to see we’re trying to balance that out. We’re still remote compared to other places, but still accessible by Southeast standards.”


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