Forest Service will work to lower cost of viewing platform for historic boat

The borough hopes to partner with the U.S. Forest Service to give the Chugach - a wooden Forest Service boat built in 1925 - an improved permanent home outside the Nolan Center, complete with a viewing deck and interpretive signs.

Currently, the boat spends most of the year wrapped in a protective plastic covering, though it is occasionally unveiled for events like the Fourth of July.

The 62-foot vessel is the last of the Forest Service's ranger fleet, which was once 11 strong. The boat was "considered the best handling (and) the most seaworthy oceangoing vessel" of the bunch, according to a Forest Service pamphlet, and once supplied field camps, transported government officials, provided welfare to isolated communities and took part in search and rescue operations.

"Chugach has played a central role in the successful administration of the nation's two largest national forests, the Chugach National Forest and the Tongass National Forest," according to the boat's National Historic Register documents. It was listed on the register in the 1990s.

A conceptual design to present the Chugach as an accessible tourist attraction was developed in 2021, featuring a slanted roof to protect the vessel and a ramp that would lead around the boat and onto the deck.

However, Nolan Center Director Cyni Crary is concerned that the project's $500,000 price tag - likely closer to $625,000 this year, thanks to inflated construction costs - is too expensive and elaborate to be feasible.

"The conceptual design is the dream," she wrote in an email to the Sentinel. "However, we need to come up with something much cheaper." She hopes that in the coming design phase, engineers can scale the plans back and aim for a cost closer to $250,000.

Design and engineering work is slated for this winter.

The Forest Service has set aside $150,000 for the work. Though this won't be enough to complete the entire project, it can help the organization get started with the engineering plans in hopes of unwrapping the vessel by next summer.

The goal, explained Harvey Hergett, director of engineering for the Forest Service Alaska region, is to get at least a shelter constructed over the boat in the summer of 2024. "We're already having some issues with ... mold on the inside of it," he said at a work session with the assembly Sept. 12. "Having it covered with shrink-wrap, like it is right now, is not the best thing for it."

"Once the roof is over it and we're protecting our asset, we're not worried about it anymore," added District Ranger Clint Kolarich.

However, the Forest Service isn't legally permitted to put permanent structures on land that it doesn't own and the area housing the Chugach is borough property . The first step in the development process, then, will be to finalize a lease. Forest Service representatives are already working with Borough Manager Jeff Good to establish this lease.

The next step would be to raise $100,000 or more using a combination of grassroots fundraising and grants to supplement the $150,000 from the Forest Services in hopes that a new design could come in at $250,000. More grants will become available once the borough has engineering plans in hand - likely by the end of this winter.

The Nolan Center is also considering starting a GoFundMe, which would allow community members to contribute small amounts toward the project over the years.


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