Nonprofit donates new boats for Virginia Lake, Middle Ridge cabins

A couple of Wrangell-area U.S. Forest Service cabins will have new 16-foot aluminum boats next year, courtesy of a national nonprofit organization.

The new boats will go to two of the most popular cabins in the area: Middle Ridge, accessible by former logging roads near the center of Wrangell Island, and Virginia Lake, on the mainland across the Back Channel from town.

The SeaArk boats were donated by the National Forest Foundation, a congressionally chartered organization that provides funds for conservation and recreation opportunities in the nation’s forests.

“It is wonderful to receive new boats,” Tory Houser, recreation staff officer for the Forest Service Wrangell District, said Sept. 27. “It’s really a cool project.”

The National Forest Foundation bought 21 skiffs and two canoes for Forest Service Alaska cabins, with a couple delivered by helicopter to their remote new home at the West Turner Lake cabin up Taku Inlet, just south of Juneau, explained Carolyn Auwaerter, Tongass stewardship coordinator for the foundation.

All of the new watercraft were planned for delivery to the Forest Service by the end of September, she said.

Foundation and Forest Service staff worked together to determine which cabins needed boats — some are replacements for older watercraft, and some cabins will be getting a boat for the first time, Auwaerter said.

In the case of the two Wrangell-area cabins, no helicopter lifts were needed to deliver the boats, Hauser said. But there were a couple of small complications.

When a Forest Service crew delivered the boat to Middle Ridge on a flatbed truck, they discovered that the boat’s 48-inch-wide bottom was too much for the small dock at the cabin. “It is hard to pull up the skiff (out of the water) to drain it,” she said.

The agency decided not to leave the boat at the cabin over the winter. They didn’t want to risk it filling with snow and water and freezing. So they brought it back to town and will return it to the cabin next year, along with a crew to add a little more width to the dock, Houser said.

The other unexpected complication is that the boat is built to hang an outboard on back, not for rowing. No outboards are allowed at the small lake. “Our wonderful staff built a beautiful (rowing) bench” for the boat, she said. Problem solved.

“Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” Houser said of the small alterations needed to put the free boat to good use.

Though the Wrangell District has the new boat for Virginia Lake, staff will not deliver it to the cabin until next spring, she said. It will join two others already at the site, and the plan is to leave one of the boats at the Mill Creek trailhead for people who arrive by water.

She cautioned cabin users that the new boat has a higher transom than the older craft at the site and needs a longer-shaft outboard motor to reach the water.

In addition to delivering the new boat next year, Forest Service crews plan to repair or rebuild the Virginia Lake cabin porch and install new metal grating in front of the cabin to better drain away the water coming off the roof, she said.


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