New and improved public-use cabins are headed Alaska’s way, and officials want to know where the public thinks they should go.
U.S. Forest Service officials announced Friday that roughly $14.4 million of the $1 trillion infrastructure law that passed last year would go to improving existing cabins in Alaska’s Tongass and Chugach National Forests, and building new ones.
“We are very excited about this — this is a once-in-a-career opportunity,” said James King, regional director of recreation, land, and minerals for the Forest Service Alaska Region.
King said forest districts in the state proposed around 50 new cabins, and in October, they’ll seek the public’s input on specific locations and cabin types.
He said they can’t build all 50 — it’s expensive to helicopter in materials to remote locations. But they’re hoping to build roughly half that number, while also using funds to improve existing cabins.
They’ll soon have a map that details where cabins could be located. Jeff Schramm, the forest supervisor for the Chugach, said officials plan on approaching the public with roughly 10 to 12 potential cabin sites in the Chugach. But as there’s only so much funding, and they don’t yet know how many cabins they’ll actually be able to build there.
“It’s hard knowing what all the costs are associated with it right now until you determine those locations,” Schramm said. “And then the number may go up or down on how many cabins you’re able to construct.”
King said the Forest Service wants to find out how people use cabins so that they can build the right type. He said they’re hoping to gain usage insights, like how many people might stay in a cabin at once and whether users like certain features such as lofts or large porches.
“It’s about creating unique opportunities for people to enjoy public lands,” King said. “So is that unique opportunity at a lake, at a river, at a beautiful view? Or is it a place where people like to hunt, or fish, or gather berries?”
The Forest Service is particularly focused on putting the cabins where there is demand, King said. That means the cabins might end up being located a short hike up a trail that’s on the road system, or even in an existing campground.
King said that’s because the Forest Service has seen a recent shift in cabin usage toward places that are closer to communities and less expensive to reach, compared to remote locations that require access by plane or boat.
Some of the newly-proposed cabins could be located in the Glacier, Cordova, and Seward ranger districts in the Chugach National Forest, which stretches some 5.4 million acres across Southcentral Alaska. The forest is visited by about half a million people yearly.
Schramm said as they build the new cabins, they’re focused on ease of access “because not everybody has a boat or an airplane.”
That’s especially important in the Chugach because many Alaskans live within an hour of the forest, and cabins get reserved far in advance. As more cabins get built, Schramm said, new and easily-accessible cabins may be full too.
In addition to new cabins, the Forest Service will also use some of the funding to spruce up existing cabins which might get fresh roofs, logs, furniture, flooring and bathrooms.
The Infrastructure law stipulates that the projects must be completed over the next five years. King said they’re hoping to have repairs started and a few new cabins in 2023.
“And then it’ll ramp up from there,” King said.