Refuge cabins a well-kept secret

Posted: Monday, October 10, 2005


  The Engineer Lake cabin off of the Seven Lakes Trail is one of several new public use cabins constructed in 2004 and 2005 by the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Joseph Robertia

The Engineer Lake cabin off of the Seven Lakes Trail is one of several new public use cabins constructed in 2004 and 2005 by the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

Photo by Joseph Robertia

Now that all the tourists are gone and Alaskans can finally talk amongst themselves, it's time to discuss one of the Kenai Peninsula best kept secrets — the multitude of Kenai National Wildlife Refuge cabins that recently have been erected for public use.

"We put up three cabins this summer and three last summer," said Gary Titus, cabin manager and historian for the refuge.

The public use cabins constructed in 2005 are at Engineer Lake off of the Seven Lakes Trail and Dolly Varden Lake off of Swanson River Road. The third cabin, at Big Indian Creek off of Mystery Creek Road, was moved and restored from its former location at Little Indian Creek.

In 2004, a cabin was erected at the southeast end of McLain Lake near the outlet creek to upper Swanson River. A cabin also was built on Upper Ohmer Lake off of Skilak Lake Road and another at Snag Lake in the Swanson Lake System. The latter cabin only is accessible by float or ski plane or snowmachine in winter.

Titus said much thought was given to the locations of all the new cabins.

"We wanted locations that weren't in critical habitat, didn't disturb wildlife, couldn't be seen from roads, but still were easily accessible by boat or trail," he said.

Titus said he hopes the addition of the new cabins will encourage more people to get outdoors and enjoy what the refuge has to offer.

"There are few cabins in wilderness areas, so these cabins allow people to experience the wilderness, but also experience a bit of living history," he said.

To Titus many of these cabins are special because they represent part of Alaska history and culture.

"Some of these cabins were people's homes for 10 months out of the year. People staying overnight can experience that, the basic lifestyle, even if for only a night," he said.

In addition, Titus said the cabins offer a level of comfort that can't be matched.

"When it's raining or snowing, I'd rather be in a comfortable cabin with a toasty wood stove as opposed to crawling into a wet tent," he said.

However, as opposed to a tent you carry in yourself, the comfort of a cabin comes with a price. Occupancy of the cabins is by permit only, and reservations cost $35 to $45 per night per party, depending on which cabin it is.

Titus said although there's been mixed feeling from the public on paying for what they used to be able to do for free, he believes the cost is justifiable and that it was time for the public to start chipping in.

"It costs money to restore these cabins. A lot of them were in bad shape, just about ready to fall down and go back to nature. So, I don't think $35 to $45 is asking too much," he said.

Although all the cabins — whether previously existing or newly constructed — have their own unique attributes, in his opinion,Titus said the Engineer Lake Cabin is the jewel in the cabin system crown.

"It's a nice location, with a big beaver lodge nearby and a beautiful view of the Kenai Mountains. It's a very pretty site."

The Engineer Lake Cabin is a 16-feet-by-18-feet rustic log cabin erected amid the spruce and birch trees on the north shore of the lake. The cabin is accessible by hiking or canoe.

Up to six people can overnight in it. Facilities include two bunk beds, table with benches, a wood stove, broom, shovel, water bucket and fire extinguisher. Outside, there is a boat with paddles, an established fire ring and a nearby outhouse.

The cabin was built in roughly 10 to 15 days, with the construction largely done by the refuge cabin crew, according to Titus. However, the refuge's trail crew, fire crew and maintenance crew also contributed to the project.

"We needed everyone to help with lifting logs and getting them out there," he said.

The completion of that cabin, and the other two cabins constructed this year, brings the refuge's Cabin Management Plan — funded through roughly $80,000 from Senate appropriations — to an end after more than two years of work from its humble beginning as a public questionnaire in May 2003.

Since the refuge is dedicated to conserving wildlife and wildlands, though, there are no other cabin construction plans in the immediate future.

"The money is used up, and by our cabin management plan we won't be building anymore," Titus said.

With the addition of the cabins built in 2004 and 2005, these bring the total number of public-use reservation cabins to 11. The other cabins include Caribou Island, on Caribou Island in Tustumena Lake, Dorshin Bay Cabin on the eastern shore of Skilak Lake, Nurses Cabin on the north shore of Tustumena Lake, Pipe Creek Cabin on the north shore of Tustumena Lake, and Vogel Lake Cabin on the south end of Vogel Lake in the far north of the Swanson Lakes system.

There also are two first-come, first-serve cabins — the Emma Lake Cabin of off Emma Lake Trail on the north show of Tustumena Lake and the Trapper Joe Lake Cabin north of Mystery Creek Road.

For more detailed information on the public-use cabins and their locations, contact the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge at 262-7021.

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