ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The U.S. Forest Service is looking into having campers board the Alaska Railroad in Anchorage or Seward to get to a rugged section of the Chugach National Forest.
Chugach Forest Supervisor Dave Gibbons said the ''whistlestop campgrounds'' is an idea the Forest Service would like to pursue. How far it goes depends on reaction from the public and the Alaska Railroad, but planning could begin as early as next year.
The idea will be included in a draft revision of the Chugach Forest Plan, due out April 17.
''We've had such a demand for recreation opportunities, we thought we've got to do something to get creative,'' Gibbons said. ''This is responding to what the public is telling me they want.''
Gibbons said he compares the whistlestop campgrounds to a popular but remote string of cabins and campsites along the 36-mile Resurrection Pass trail, except these would be easily accessible to people who aren't seasoned hikers, including families or older people.
The way Gibbons sees it working, the Forest Service would probably build two new cabins plus one new campground along the Alaska Railroad track between Portage and Moose Pass. Trails would likely connect the campsites and also provide short hiking opportunities around each campground. The railroad could drop people off at one site and pick them up at another, or people might choose to stay in one place for several days, he said.
The railroad is interested in the idea but has several safety concerns, said Ernie Piper, a vice president for the railroad. He said the railroad would want to keep people from hiking, skiing or snowmachining along the railroad tracks, something that has already become a problem in some areas.
Avalanches also are a concern in the section from Portage to Grandview. The danger subsides as the train descends into a flatter section from Grandview to Moose Pass, along Trail Creek.
A third concern is the railroad's tight schedule. In the summer, tourists board the train early in the morning in Anchorage and expect to be in Seward by early afternoon, in time to take a boat tour of Kenai Fjords National Park.
Shawn Lyons, an outdoor writer, said the country along the railroad between Portage and Moose Pass is isolated. Hiking into the area without the help of a train trip would be tough going. Lyons said he's never done it but has always wanted to.
''I think it's a great idea,'' Lyons said. ''And if the railroad is already there, it's a pretty minimal impact.''
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