Funding for trails, cabins and campsites on the Tongass National Forest has been declining quickly, and it is having a big impact on the Wrangell Ranger District this summer.

Wrangell District Ranger Bob Dalrymple said the area’s recreation budget was cut by more than 50 percent over the past two years. He said the district cannot afford the staff it needs to maintain its previous levels of service.

“We couldn’t fill our campground host, which we usually have staying out at Nemo. They usually cover most of the developed recreation. That’s impacted us dramatically,” Dalrymple said. “Also right now we’re in a hiring freeze, so we can’t fill vacant positions either.”

One vacant position is for a recreation manager, who coordinates all trail, cabin and campground maintenance. The district is also lacking a new manager for the Anan Wildlife Observatory.

There is only one seasonal worker this summer in a district that used to hire four. Those employees go out in the field and do most of the maintenance work.

Because of staff cuts, Dalrymple said the U.S. Forest Service will not provide firewood at its cabins and campsites anymore.

“We’re probably converting most of our wood burning stoves in our cabins to oil,” Dalrymple said. “Again, we don’t have the folks around to get the firewood in place to service those.”

Middle Ridge cabin is the only exception where firewood is provided by the Stikine Sportsmen Association.

Dalrymple said the trails and cabins near Wrangell are in pretty good shape, but unexpected problems have been hard to address. He said there was blowdown on the Kunk Lake trail on Etolin Island that damaged part of the trail. The bridge foundation on the trail to the Chief Shakes Hot Springs has also failed.

“As those things happen, we’re going to have to close those access routes until we can come up with some way to get it fixed,” Dalrymple said. “I’m still optimistic. I think with the public helping us out and us using some creativity on how to get some things fixed and taken care of that we can still offer some pretty good services.”

Dalrymple said strategies to keep the recreation program going could include partnering with other districts on the Tongass and raising fees for cabins and access to Anan.

He said the public can help by volunteering to take care of their favorite recreation sites.

“I think getting public interest in this and developing that support, or showing that support, is really important to change that funding scenario around.”

Dalrymple said the Wrangell Ranger District will assess its options after the busy summer season is over.