The M/V Chugach in storage, September 2020.
(Sage Smiley / KSTK)

The U.S. Forest Service’s last wooden Ranger boat spent almost 64 years stationed in the waters surrounding the Tongass and Chugach national forests. Recent efforts to put the 95-year-old boat on display have been delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But plans are afoot to offer the M/V Chugach a permanent home in Wrangell.

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The boat is 62 feet long, made of wood. Right now, you can’t see much of the thing other than its hulking shape and the bright red and white of its hull. Passing by, you probably wouldn’t have much of an inkling that this boat, covered by a tarp and sitting in one corner of Wrangell’s Marine Service center yard, is on the National Register of Historic Places. 

“It’s the last of its kind,” says Clint Kolarich, the District Ranger for the U.S. Forest Service in Wrangell.

Wrangell Port Commission member Gary Morrison says it was part of the federal government’s proud fleet of wooden vessels: “They had the Tongass Ranger, the Sitka Ranger and the Chugach Ranger. The Forest Service decommissioned and sold the Tongass and Sitka Ranger Boats, but they still had the Chugach Ranger, and it’s the most historical because it’s the oldest of the Ranger boats still afloat.”

The boat was built in 1925. She sailed around the Chugach and Tongass national forests–now collectively known as the Tongass National Forest–assisting in transportation, communication, record-keeping, and search and rescue operations. In Cordova, the Chugach helped deliver Christmas trees. 

Morrison continued: “It’s a real important thing in the history of the Forest Service, in the history of logging and the National Forest administration here in Southeast Alaska. So I felt, as other people do, that it’s real important to try to maintain that.”

During the winters, the Forest Service would boast that its Chugach ranger boat was the only federal government vessel within 500 miles of Prince William Sound.

The City of Wrangell recently signed an agreement with the Forest Service in January to give the Chugach a new home at the Nolan Center, which houses the Wrangell Museum as well as the city’s visitor’s center. 

Carol Rushmore, Wrangell’s economic development director, explained the plan.

“The idea was to expand our maritime, historical coverage, and we had former Governor Murkowski’s wooden boat there [already],” Rushmore said, “and there was just a lot of opportunity with the shipyard next door to do this really cool interpretation of Forest Service, wood boats, [the] lifestyle, how important it was to the to the region, that kind of thing.”

The planned display outside the museum involves some ground work, including a wooden cradle for the boat to rest on out of the water. The agreement originally set September 30 as the date when the boat would be in place, but District Ranger Clint Kolarich says that deadline is no longer realistic. 

“With any luck,” Kolarich elaborated, “we’ll have the cradle built and the boat moved before the end of the year before Christmas. Wouldn’t that be a nice gift?”

Despite the pushed-back timeline, the Nolan Center’s Director Cyni Crary says she hopes the boat display will bring more visitors to the museum and encourage Wrangell to learn more about its maritime history. 

“Once it’s complete, it’s a gonna be a really fantastic attraction,” Crary said.

Gary Morrison of Wrangell’s port commission has been working to design and build a companion exhibit indoors. He’s already got some ideas: “The last skipper of the Chugach Ranger in Petersburg, when he retired, had a painting done of the Chugach, and it’s a really beautiful painting. And it’s now hanging in the Wells Fargo Bank in Petersburg, and not very many people get to see it. It’s not really associated with the Ranger boat anymore. So we’re making an effort to try to get that painting, if we can, moved down to the Nolan center, so it would be with the exhibit for the boat.”

He says there’s other historic Forest Service memorabilia and artifacts that he’d like to include. 

To make all this happen, though, the city and Forest Service will need to extend their official agreement. The Wrangell Assembly is slated to vote on extending its agreement with the U.S. Forest Service to create a permanent exhibit for the M/V Chugach at its meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, September 22. 

Get in touch with KSTK at or (907) 874-2345.