POSSIBLE CLOSURE OF TONGASS WILDERNESS CABINS
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.
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.
Or the RAF just buys the cabins and keeps them open to the public. At least the fly in Cabins
Now, I like this idea.
What a great idea John. It could be a solution to everything needed up there.
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.
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?
Here is an awesome website (created by Tom Bass) with pictures and info on these cabins
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!!!
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?
While I really like your ideas of purchasing the cabins, please understand the USFS has a long and ugly history of burning or taking private cabins in the Tongass. With the land status changes and policy changes, the USFS cancelled rental and lease agreements, or refused to renew, and burned people’s cabins down because they said it was ‘not in keeping with the land status’. They also have worked hard to purchase private inholdings, again limiting the amount of private land. One lodge I do know about was given use of the place until the owner died- no ability to pass it to the next generations like so many do.
The few private cabins that do exist fight yearly to remain. The USFS is not interested in private people having cabins… they continue to show their true desire is to not serve the public, but lock the land up for no-one to use.
Cheers to the RAF if you can actually do something, but please understand that the USFS has made every attempt to push people out of the Tongass.
Greetings from Alaska:
Many thanks to all for the thoughtful posts above. I am considering and would be happy to consider additional posts and personal contact in order to coordinate RAF’s efforts to save these cabins and other recreational aviation resources here in the “Great Land.”
Over the weekend I got no less than four direct inquiries from Alaskan pilots who use the cabins and have offered to help with maintenance and other support.
I doubt the Forest Service would actually sell the cabins or land. However the USFS has looked at concessioners as a possibility of managing certain properties rather than continuing to manage them with federal employees and money, like the people that run the lodges and shops within the National Parks.
Another option of course is building a robust partnership where volunteers do the annual maintenance and take the workload off the feds.
This later course seems more and more realistic with local pilots offering to help as a result of this outreach.
Please reach out to me directly so I can include your thoughts as RAF engages with the local Forest Service representatives on this issue.
Al Clayton, RAF Alaska State Liaison
You guys have lots of good ideas. I would be willing to help in any way I can.
Cabins are not for sale.