RAF Alaska Liaison Al Clayton, RAF members Bill Rusk and Jeff DeFreest report that the US Forest Service cabins primarily in Southeast Alaska that are available for public use may be in jeopardy of closure. Alaska’s Tongass National Forest is the nation’s largest National Forest, and includes 142 cabins accessible by boat, trail, seaplane, and a few by wheeled aircraft. 26 are accessed by flight only, and the USFS is questioning the feasibility of maintaining them.

Threats of closure are due to perceived low usage, and proven high cost of maintenance. DeFreest recently retired from a career with the Forest Service and pointed out that the cabins typically have wood or oil heat, and Forest Service personnel have been supplying fuel and firewood, at significant cost. Decreasing funding has strained USFS resources. They published a document “Sustainable Cabin Strategy, with their findings, but concluded that the fly-in only cabins were under-utilized, and were no longer cost effective. See:  https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fseprd687218.pdf

Clayton reminds pilots that more cabins “are within forty-five minutes of Anchorage in a 180.”  Clayton has had success building relationships with federal and state agencies, and has organized volunteers from EAA Chapter 42 that have made improvements on airstrips within Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, USFS lands, and Chugach State Park.

RAF Director Jeff Russell asks, “What other organization is better equipped to help with advocacy and help [preserve] this recreational resource?” He referred to the recent five-year renewal of the RAF’s Memorandum of Understanding with the USFS, and the companion Master Cost Share Agreement, authorizing the RAF to cooperate with the USFS to preserve and improve its airstrips. 

The RAF encourages pilots to enjoy the cabins and spread word of the unique wilderness opportunity they offer. Floatplane Charter services are available to anyone without water landing ability.

The RAF is seeking volunteers in the region who are willing to get involved. Please contact RAF Alaska Liaison Al Clayton for ways you can help. “These cabins are a true treasure in one of the most beautiful parts of the world,” Russell said.  

Submitted on March 23, 2021.

7 Comments

  1. John Willard on April 1, 2021 at 6:50 am

    Could they sell the cabins to private buyers with a clause that they must be rented to the public for maybe 30 days each year??Rental rate to be modest.

    • Mark S on April 1, 2021 at 8:13 am

      Or the RAF just buys the cabins and keeps them open to the public. At least the fly in Cabins

    • George Chase on April 1, 2021 at 9:30 am

      What a great idea John. It could be a solution to everything needed up there.

  2. Charles A Mott Jr. on April 1, 2021 at 7:15 am

    I would also be interested in a purchase of one or several cabins and would possibly entertain a “donation” plan for pilots or others interested in utilizing them.

  3. Chris McCrank on April 1, 2021 at 9:01 am

    Any action those of us from the lower 48 can take in support of keeping all cabins, including the fly-in only cabins, open?

    I agree, these cabins are a true treasure. I’d hate to see any disappear.

    Is there a link for comments or a specific person we should contact?

  4. Bill Rusk on April 1, 2021 at 10:50 am

    Here is an awesome website (created by Tom Bass) with pictures and info on these cabins
    http://www.Publiclakecabinsak.com

    Go to you tube and search “Bill Rusk best of 2020” to see a short video ( 3 minutes) showing lots of the cabins and scenery.
    Write the US Forest Service dept and support keeping them open PLEASE!!!

  5. B. Frederick on April 1, 2021 at 5:01 pm

    Instead of buying the cabins, maybe lease them for $1 ea and then maintain them as part of the deal. The USFS retains the property.
    Maybe get the Seaplane organization involved as many are only accessible by seaplane. Maybe guides/ outfitters get involved.
    As a reality check, we need to keep in mind that only a percentage of RAF members donate money to the cause. Guessing 15 or 20 percent. The checkbook is probably not as large as many may think.
    Once a deal is made we don’t want to have a tiger by the tail.
    The cabins are pretty cool and would be nice, tents are cheaper and work( though not as bear proof)and cost nothing to maintain.
    If the cabins are underutilized now what would change to use them more in the future and how would they be funded year after year? How big of a work party does it take to maintain (122??) all those cabins?

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