Time is running out to recommend new locations for Forest Service cabins in Alaska, or to suggest major improvements to existing cabins.
The Alaska Region of the US Forest Service has over $14 million to spend on cabin projects in the Tongass and Chugach national forests, thanks to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed by President Biden last year. The deadline for public comment is Monday, October 31.
Note: Public comment on the Alaska Region Cabin Projects closes at the end of the day on Monday, October 31. You can find a link to make a comment on any proposed project in the Tongass or Chugach national forests here.
Through earlier public scoping efforts, the Forest Service has identified 50 possible locations for development or improvements in both the Tongass and Chugach. The proposed projects are on an interactive map online, so rather than having to write a formal comment letter to the Forest Service, residents can just click on a site and leave a comment. Although there are 50 possibilities, the agency says that not all will be selected. This process is intended to help the agency narrow down the choices. As of Friday, October 28, the Forest Service has received 1,060 comments on the proposals. Alaska Region Public Affairs director Jacqueline Chandler says she’s been “pleasantly surprised” by the number of responses so far.
Two locations around Sitka have already generated feedback: One is a cabin accessible from the road system, and the other a cabin accessible by boat.
Residents have offered several ideas for the road system cabin, including a possible site on Harbor Mountain, and another between Blue Lake and Beaver Lake, accessible by a hike up the Herring Cove Trail. This latter is called a backpacking cabin. One commenter wrote, “It would be nice to have a cabin to backpack into from the road system far enough back that you have to work to get there and partiers won’t use it as much.” This person suggested a site 4 or 5 miles up the Indian River Trail.
Several people mentioned trying to limit the harmful impacts associated with having a cabin that is easily accessible from town. One wrote, “I would like to see more safety shelters in hike-in areas. I don’t necessarily want to attract the impacts associated with fully developed public use cabins to alpine areas.”
The boat-accessible cabin would ideally be a short hike in from a beach, and have a safe anchorage. The location marked on the Forest Service website is popular beach in Promisla Bay, on Krestof Island, but the language states “the project location on this map is just a placeholder.”
To date, there are far fewer comments on the boat-accessible cabin than on the road-accessible cabin. Residents suggest a cabin in upper Krestof Sound or Sukoi Inlet, or on outside waters in Gilmer Bay or Sea Lion Cove.
One person also recommended rebuilding the old Civilian Conservation Corps shelter on the trail from Goddard to Redoubt Lake.
Baby Bear Bay and the Vixen Islands were also suggested as possible cabin locations.
There are also possibilities for new cabins outside of the Sitka District. One idea is for a cabin adjacent to the Bohemia Basin dock owned by the City of Pelican in Lisianski Strait. Other new cabins have been proposed at Freshwater Bay and False Bay on Chichagof Island. Major improvements have been proposed for the GreenTop cabin and the Sitkoh Lake West cabin. Both the Hoonah and the Petersburg Ranger Districts have identified several possible projects.
One other improvement proposed by the Sitka district: Bear-proof food storage containers at all cabins, to replace the wood-and-wire mesh boxes now found on most.
The Forest Service doesn’t want to hear about just possible cabins; the agency is also interested in features. There’s a survey form where users can comment on the number of people cabins should accommodate, and whether they should include covered porches, fire pits, and the like. The form even allows users to upload a photo or a file to help illustrate their point.
The proposed projects in both the Tongass and Chugach are intentionally situated relatively close to communities, to meet increasing demand for recreation in the national forests. They’ll also use as much local labor and locally-available wood as practical.
The estimated start time for many of the proposed projects are in 2023 and 2024. Most will require formal environmental impact analysis.