Story last updated at 11/6/2013 - 1:37 pm
The changing face of visitation on the Tongass National Forest, along with the reality of shrinking budgets, has prompted Tongass managers to begin strategically planning for the future of the forest's 152 recreation cabins. Increasing costs and declining funding resulted in a $600,000 budget shortfall in the forest's cabin program this year. In the strategic plan, managers aim to identify cabins that are underused, dilapidated, or otherwise unsustainable, and explore how the forest can refocus available funding on those cabins which are most heavily used and valued by the public. Another goal is to build partnerships with Tongass cabin users to sustain more cabins through volunteer work projects and philanthropy.
"Cabins on the Tongass are some of the forest's most unique and popular visitor destinations, and they are a valued part of our recreation offerings," says Forest Supervisor Forrest Cole. "Public recreation cabins on the Tongass are important to all of us in Southeast Alaska, because we use them for family recreation, hunting, fishing, and sometimes for emergency shelter. Unfortunately, we are faced with the challenge of sustaining a program we cannot afford."
The forest's most popular cabins-generally those on or near the road system, such as the Starrigavan cabin in Sitka or the John Muir cabin in Juneau, are often booked 100 to 270 nights per year. However, some cabins are used far less often-particularly those accessible only by floatplane or helicopter, as rising fuel prices have made charter flights increasingly costly. Of the 152 cabins managed by the Tongass, 21 of those saw less than 10 nights of use in 2012.
The same increased costs that are cutting into remote cabin visitation are impacting the Forest Service budget as well. For example, a district's routine maintenance costs for a handful of cabins can typically cost $5,000 to $15,000. At the same time, due to sequestration and other reductions, federal funding received by the Tongass for recreation facilities has dropped nearly 50%, from a late-2000s average of $2.1 million per year to just $1.1 million this past year. Further reductions are projected in 2014 and beyond. Thus, the forest is planning to adjust to these financial constraints while supporting as many facilities as feasible.
Declining funding has already constrained the forest's ability to keep up with deferred cabin maintenance, meaning that little-used cabins have been allowed to deteriorate. Many cabins are already considered to be in "poor" or "very poor" condition and need significant rehabilitation or even reconstruction to remain safe for use. Rather than exposing the public to unsafe facility conditions, the plan is intended to develop a smaller, sustainable cabin program. Further details will be provided as the plan progresses.
For more information, contact Hans von Rekowski, Recreation, Heritage, and Wilderness Staff Officer. Hans may be reached by phone at 907-747-4217 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on Tongass National Forest cabins, go to http://www.fs.usda.gov/goto/R10/Tongass/Cabins.To rent a cabin, go to http://www.recreation.gov.