The wrapped-up Chugach Ranger outside Wrangell’s Nolan Center.
(Sage Smiley / KSTK)

A boat on the national register of historic places will be on display in time for Wrangell’s Fourth of July celebrations. 

For the last few years, Wrangell’s local government, museum, and the U.S. Forest Service have been collaborating to try and preserve the last remaining wooden Ranger boat in Alaska – the Chugach Ranger. 

The Chugach, photo taken in the 1940s.
(Courtesy U.S. Forest Service)

Wrangell District Ranger Clint Kolarich says the agency is working to develop a plan for how to permanently display the Chugach Ranger and design an exhibit to highlight its unique history. In order to do that, people involved with the project need to board the boat, but it’s been wrapped up for more than a year to keep it protected from the elements. 

“There are a few people that need to get on board and take photographs, and do some cataloging and inventory through photographs,” Kolarich says, “So the regional office is contracting to have the wrapping undone and all the infrastructure holding the wrapping up taken away, so these folks can get in and complete their assessment to get that project done for us to deliver to the City. But we’re timing that to correspond with the Fourth of July celebration.”

Kolarich says the Forest Service has contracted with Wrangell-based Superior Marine to unwrap and rewrap the Chugach over the coming month. 

The 62-foot vessel was built in 1925 and spent decades patrolling the waters of what’s now known as the Tongass National Forest. It assisted federal officials with transportation, communication, record-keeping, and search and rescue operations. 

Plans to build and develop a permanent display for the boat were put on the back burner by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Kolarich says that for now, the Chugach will be able to be viewed by residents but not boarded. Only contractors will be allowed on. 

A Forest Ranger stands with the M/V Chugach in the 1920s.
(Photo courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service)

“It’s just much too difficult and quite dangerous, actually, to try to get folks up there,” Kolarich explains. “It’s way up there when you go stand next to it and look up. But it’ll be neat to be able to see it completely unwrapped. It’s [also] nice that it’ll get rewrapped because it’s been wrapped for a while now, and that wrapping has been taking a little bit of a pounding, so we can get it redone so it’ll be in good shape while we work on the rest of the plan until we finally get the whole thing completed. [It’s] kind of exciting to be able to see that over the Fourth of July.”

Kolarich says that preliminary artists’ renderings of an interpretive exhibit for the Chugach are inspiring, but it’s a step of the process that hasn’t yet been funded. The Forest Service is looking for funding, but some of the burden also falls on the City and Borough of Wrangell, according to a Memorandum of Understanding between the agency and local government.

That means it could be a few years before the boat and accompanying exhibit are totally ready and open to visitors, Kolarich says. 

“We’re talking about a permanent structure over [the boat] with wheelchair access and a viewing deck and so it’s going to happen in phases over the next few years,” Kolarich says, adding with a laugh: “Unless [there’s] someone listening wants to make a substantial donation to the City and Borough of Wrangell to preserve and showcase the last 100-year-old, all wood, Forest Service Ranger boat.”

For now, Kolarich says the Chugach will be unwrapped and on display by June 26 at the latest, and will remain unwrapped for at least a couple of weeks. See the Chugach Ranger next to former Alaska governor Frank Murkowski’s boat on display outside the Nolan Center in downtown Wrangell.

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