The U.S. Forest Service is looking to build new cabins in the Wrangell and Petersburg Ranger Districts. At a meeting last month, area residents weighed in about what’s important to them.
Dozens of cabins operated by the U.S. Forest Service are sprinkled throughout the Inside Passage around Petersburg, Wrangell and up the Stikine River. The federal agency is looking for input on where the public wants new sites on the Tongass, and what features those cabins should have.
“Any place you have ever thought ‘Wow, this would be a perfect place for a rental cabin,’” Petersburg Acting District Ranger Eric LaPrice told attendees at a public input session last month (April 14). He said that the agency doesn’t know yet how many cabins they’ll build on the two districts – just that they’re looking for public opinions.
“So we’re looking primarily for areas that would be accessible by boat and by car,” LaPrice continued. “Right now we’re just in the beginning brainstorming of ideas, and just want to know what ideas you have. We are also going to start by collecting your ideas on what cabin amenities you like, so that we can incorporate those into our design and analysis as we go forward.”
There are more than 40 cabins in the two areas (23 in the Wrangell District and 19 in the Petersburg District) maintained by the agency. The two most used cabins are closest to town–one on Mitkof Island outside of Petersburg, and one in the middle of Wrangell Island.
Wrangell resident Kathleen Harding is a prolific cabin user, especially of Middle Ridge – the only road-accessible cabin on the island. And she thinks it’s a hot commodity.
“If the weekend is the 9th and 10th of July, you have to get online on January the 9th and 10th to book that weekend,” she said. “We usually just pick a weekend and hope the weather’s nice, and that nothing conflicts later on.”
Dee Galla is a recreation planner with the Forest Service in Wrangell. She said one of the most important things the agency is considering when looking to build new cabins is access.
“In Wrangell, our highest use cabin is the Middle Ridge Cabin, which is here in the middle of the island by a road,” Galla explained, “And our next highest use one is a Deep Bay cabin, which is over on Zarembo [Island], easily accessible by boat from town and then has access to it on a road system out there.”
She added it’s obvious that the cabins that are used most aren’t necessarily the ones in the most spectacular locations
“But,” Galla said, “They have the amenities of being accessible and usable. And so we’re just looking at how we may want to maybe gather up our cabins and figure out the better places for them.”
Bob Dalrymple, a Wrangell Assembly member and a former district ranger, said he’d like to see more cabins in open settings, with areas that have airflow and sunshine, when it peeks out from behind ubiquitous Southeast clouds.
“I think with cabin locations it’s always good to have some opportunities around – just something, the cabin plus something,” Dalrymple said, “Whether it be a short trail, a creek and a lake, a lake with a rowboat – and it’s always nice to have something besides just the structure of the cabin for people to do.”
Users and community members suggested several possible new cabin locations at the April input session. On Wrangell Island, many suggested sites that were near or on existing Forest Service roads, like the Turn Island area in the southwest of the island, or Long Lake, closer to the middle of the island.
In Petersburg, users suggested multiple sites on and off of Mitkof Island, including the old White Alice site off Duncan Canal on Kupreanof Island which was used for a Cold War-era radio communications system by the U.S. Military.
Some also suggested what they called “pie in the sky” cabins like one at Anita Bay on Etolin Island, or on Zarembo Island, both popular areas for hunting and camping.
But for Sylvia Ettefagh, a Wrangell visitor business owner, the goal is cabin sustainability, not necessarily more exotic Southeast locations.
“They would have to get enough use to pay for themselves or at least help pay for themselves,” Ettefagh explained. “If we can concentrate and focus on the cabins that we know would be used, which are really the ones that are on Wrangell Island, then we can then we may have a chance at some of the more ‘pie in the sky’ ones like something over on Etolin [Island].”
Beyond cabin location, the Forest Service is also seeking input on what should go in and around the new cabins.
Ettefagh said her business – Alaska Vistas – takes people to cabins frequently, and she hears visitors’ feedback. By and large, she said, cabin users seem to want more bear boxes and places to store food and gear, outdoor cooking areas, and … “One of the comments – constant comments is ‘There are better designs for outhouses,’” Ettefagh said with a laugh.
Flexible spaces are also important, she said. Areas around cabins to pitch a tent, hang out on a deck, separate downstairs activities and upstairs sleeping, can all make a cabin more functional for a group.
“Expands the usability of people to have their – locals to have their family reunions and that type of thing,” Ettefagh said. “It’s just, it’s kind of cool. And I know I know a lot of people use the cabins for that.”
Dalrymple, the Wrangell Assembly member, said he thinks one of the most important features of new cabins should be their size and capacity. He said camping parties of nowadays look a little different from yesteryear.
“You know, our current cabins were designed in the 60s for the most part, and they were geared – I think – more towards male hunters or fishermen,” Dalrymple said. “And I think people are looking – it’s a different kind of recreation now, and it’s more family-oriented or larger groups, not necessarily hunting, but they might be. But they’re looking for a more comfortable larger cabin, I think.”
Forest Service officials say the push for new cabins comes partly from an influx of federal infrastructure funding to the region.
The Forest Service is still accepting input on possible new cabin locations in the Wrangell and Petersburg Ranger Districts, as well as the size and features those cabins might have. They request comments to be submitted online on or before May 15.
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