Refuge cabin plan calls for upgrades

Posted: Wednesday, March 31, 2004

The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge's public-use cabins may get some upgrades and additions, if a new management plan is approved.

Refuge staff on Tuesday released a "Draft Cabin Management Plan" the first in the refuge's 63-year history. The plan outlines a handful of management possibilities, including implementing a reservation system for some cabins, developing a maintenance program and building up to six new facilities.

The plan is available for public review and comment throughout the month.

Bill Kent, the supervisory park ranger for the refuge, explained Tuesday that the refuge has never had a plan for dealing with its numerous public-use facilities. In fact, he said, refuge staff members aren't even certain how many cabins are spread throughout the 1.92 million-acre refuge.

"We're not sure we've located all of them," Kent said. "Some are ruins, some are in pretty good shape."

The known cabins provide shelter and recreation for hundreds of people year-round. Many are filled throughout summer and fall and even into the winter months. Because the cabins currently are operated on a first-come, first-served basis, Kent said he couldn't estimate how many people use the cabins. But, he said, visitor registers show plenty of activity.

"I would say at least some of the more accessible ones are used with great regularity," he said.

The cabins have shortcomings, though. The first-come, first-served policy provides flexibility for some, but also may mean backpackers and skiers could be left without shelter if a cabin already is occupied.

And while refuge staff tries to maintain the facilities, the lack of a management plan has left some cabins in disrepair and subject to vandalism.

Kent explained that one cabin on the east end of Skilak Lake was deteriorating until crews cleaned it up last summer.

"They replaced logs and the floors; they rehabilitated it and cleaned it up," Kent said. "It's a lot better than it was before they got there. They did a bang-up job on that one."

On the other end of the spectrum, though, Finger Lakes Cabin off Swanson River Road burned down last year without a known cause.

"We're still looking for the who and why to that," Kent said.

The new management plan, if implemented, proposes different category designations for the cabins and suggests standards for maintenance and management of public-use and historical cabins. It also addresses cabin use, suggesting combinations of reservation systems and first-come, first-served policies.

In addition, the plan proposes the addition of up to six new cabins in refuge territory.

Kent said the exact number of new cabins is not certain, and cabins cannot be constructed on the two-thirds of the refuge designated as "wilderness."

Additional cabins and upgrades would be funded, at least in part, by congressional money the refuge received last year to explore and implement the management plan. All told, Kent said construction work including crews and helicopter time to deliver materials likely will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

He said the public is encouraged to provide feedback on the plan in the next month.

Copies of the 60-page document are available at the refuge headquarters on Ski Hill Road in Soldotna. Copies also can be mailed to those who request them by phone at 262-7021.

Written comments can be sent to Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, Attn: Cabin Management Plan, P.O. Box 2139, Soldotna, AK 99669, through April 30. They also may be faxed to 262-3599.

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