Wilderness camp still in limbo

Posted: Tuesday, December 03, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Chenik Camp, the Cook Inlet wilderness getaway that was supposed to be burned to the ground by now, is still standing and will be at least through winter.

The five-acre camp is the only hitch in a long-awaited transfer of 23,000 acres from federal to state control.

The camp's owner, Michael McBride of Homer, is hoping the camp can be saved. But he is battling a state government that has shown no desire to accept any hint of private enterprise on the land.

Chenik is prime wildlife habitat in famous McNeil River brown bear country and is destined to remain pristine, state officials say.

The camp, known for bear viewing and glorious hikes in big country, has attracted a generation of wildlife photographers, politicians and well-heeled wildlife enthusiasts.

It is set up on Chenik Head, a thumb of land jutting into Kamishak Bay, due west of Homer. It is six miles from the famous McNeil River bear viewing camp, which is run by the state.

McBride established his camp in 1978 with a one-year permit from the Bureau of Land Management. He never got the proper permits needed to run the camp.

Once Chenik Head is cleared and restored to its natural state, the state intends to incorporate the area into the McNeil River State Game Refuge.

In order to satisfy the state's wish, and Alaska law, the federal government must get rid of McBride's cluster of cabins before it hands the land over to state control.

McBride signed a contract in 2001 promising to raze the camp by the end of September. He was supposed to set fire to it as part of a training exercise for BLM fire crews.

Now McBride is searching for an alternative. He has approached Sen. Ted Stevens, according to the Bureau. Gov. Frank Murkowski also has taken some interest in the camp, said Murkowski's press aide, Chuck Kleeschulte.

''We think there's a bright opportunity there for a small private business or a nonprofit and many reasons Chenik could and should be allowed to continue in one form or another,'' McBride said. ''We'll work to see that happen.''

McBride did dismantle a couple of buildings at the site this fall but stopped short of setting fire to the rest, according to Teresa McPherson, BLM's spokeswoman.

He asked for a year's extension to let the political process run its course, but the BLM denied it, saying it has clear marching orders from the state, McPherson said. The agency plans to hire a crew to finish the job after winter passes. The bill will be sent to McBride.

''Our position would only change if our instructions from the state changed,'' McPherson said.

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