State, feds prepare for tourism increase in Prince William Sound

Posted: Monday, June 12, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The new road to Whittier has not created a flurry of cabin and campsite construction in Prince William Sound to match the expected influx of tourists.

But the state Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation has been slowly increasing the number of campsites in the Sound in recent years, independent of the road's opening. And more are coming.

Most of the new state campsites have boardwalks, tent platforms, pit toilets and metal lockers to keep food from bears. But throughout most of the western Sound, camping is primitive and will remain that way, state and federal officials said.

With increasing visitor pressure in the largely undeveloped area, the Forest Service has stepped up efforts to educate people about how to boat and camp in the Sound without harming it. One of the biggest problems - assuming hundreds of thousands more people flock to the Sound as expected - will be human waste, said district ranger Deirdre St. Louis.

A new Forest Service pamphlet geared to the Sound addresses the problem. Up to four Forest Service rangers in kayaks will also patrol the Sound this summer. One of their jobs will be to educate campers.

The Forest Service has no immediate plans for developed campsites or cabins, St. Louis said, but may choose to ''harden'' some popular camping spots with gravel depending on how much they are used.

The most likely places are beaches along Harriman Fjord, College Fjord and Blackstone Bay, all within an easy boat ride of Whittier.

This fall the Forest Service plans to hold workshops to determine how much change people are willing accept in Prince William Sound. If people find the area has become too crowded, the agency may start some kind of permit system, St. Louis said.

The state Department of Parks and Recreation started building new cabins and campsites about three years ago with money from Exxon for the settlement of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill. About $1 million went to build campsites within western Prince William Sound.

Parks and Recreation manages 14 marine parks within the Sound, totaling 32,000 acres, said Ron Crenshaw, chief of marine recreation and trails for state parks. The Forest Service manages most of the rest of the land around the Sound and has 16 public use cabins, mostly in the eastern Sound.

''Generally, people are looking for us to maintain the wilderness character of the Sound,'' Crenshaw said. ''That means small campgrounds in keeping with the wilderness character. But it allows for some development.''

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