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Brooks Camp in Katmai may get 350-foot bridge above bears

Craig Medred

After decades of dealing with bear-human confrontations near the outlet of Brooks River in Katmai National Park and Preserve, federal officials are proposing a plan to put people above the fray.

The park service's preferred alternative for improving access to and from Brooks Camp is a 350-foot-long bridge at least 10 feet above the water. The river is now crossed by a short floating bridge that is sometimes used more by bears than people.

The new plan is to get the bridge up above the bears, and connect it to 1,200 feet of boardwalk that would include pull outs and viewing areas for watching bears. A bridge is necessary to connect the historic Brooks Camp to trails, a bear viewing platform near Brooks Falls and park operations buildings on the opposite side of the river – as well as the road leading to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes.

Although Katmai attracts fewer than 50,000 visitors per year, it is internationally famous and the seventh most-visited of the 15 national parks in the 49th state. The Brooks River area, in turn, is the most visited location within the 4-million-acre wilderness reserve nearly 300 miles southwest of Anchorage.

The bridge and boardwalk proposal is one of five plans addressed in a draft environmental impact statement addressing access options. The plan is open for public comment through Aug. 20. The park service, in a prepared statement, said "each of four bridge replacement alternatives in the draft EIS seek to reduce the risk of human-bear conflicts, provide more dependable access across the river and make easier the eventual relocation of many of the Brooks Camp facilities to less problematic locations." There has never been a fatal human-bear conflict at Brooks. Typically the two or three incidents a year are minor.

The fifth option is to do nothing. 

The full EIS can be downloaded at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/projectHome.cfm?projectID=24254