Users looking to reserve West Turner Lake cabin may be paying higher prices if a price-hike is implemented by the U.S. Forest Service. Prices for cabins on the Tongass National Forest could rise from $35 per night, to between $45 and $75 depending on usage. West Turner Lake cabin nightly use could rise to $45.

Users looking to reserve West Turner Lake cabin may be paying higher prices if a price-hike is implemented by the U.S. Forest Service. Prices for cabins on the Tongass National Forest could rise from $35 per night, to between $45 and $75 depending on usage. West Turner Lake cabin nightly use could rise to $45.

Forest Service proposes raised cabin fees

Under new proposed rental fees, the cost of a night’s stay at some popular U.S. Forest Service cabins in Juneau will more than double, from $35 a night to $75 a night. The cost of a night at less popular cabins, mostly those in more rural areas of the Tongass National Forest, will increase less significantly, stay the same, or decrease in an attempt to stimulate bookings.

Fees for the 184 cabins being considered for rate hikes haven’t changed for 15 or 20 years.

At the end of a three year phase-in, the highest price cabins in the general Juneau area will be $75 per night; the middle range may increase to $60 per night, and the lowest will cost $50 per night, increased from $35 a night.

The rate changes, which apply both to the Chugach and Tongass national forests, will be phased in gradually, over the course of three years.

Local cabins with fees that will be increased to $75 per night by the end of three years include the John Muir Cabin, Eagle Glacier Cabin, Dan Moller Cabin, Peterson Lake Cabin, and Windfall Lake Cabin.

Less popular cabins, like Denver Caboose, East Turner Lake, Berners Bay, Taku Glacier, and West Turner Lake will increase $10 over the course of three years, for a $45 per night cost.

Two cabins proposed to be raised from $35 to $100 a night are both in Cordova — Martin Lake and Nellie Martin River.

These estimated costs don’t include a booking fee, which is $9 for online bookings and $10 for phone bookings.

Some local residents expressed concerns that the increases will overly impact those who make less money.

“My only concern is that $75 per night might squeeze out some locals who can afford a $35 a night cabin,” wrote local resident Jim Hale in response to a public Empire request for comment.

Tongass Public Affairs Officer Kent Cummins wrote in an email that this is a concern for the Forest Service, “but after more than two decades of trying to sustain these facilities, we had to face the realities brought forth by a forest-wide recreation facility analysis, a regional appraiser’s market study, and more.”

“The cost to maintain some cabins is still higher than their proposed rental rates,” he added.

Maintenance on one cabin, depending how old it is, what kind it is, what amenities (outhouse, propane) are on offer, and transportation costs, can cost between $1,500 to $2,600 a trip, with most cabins requiring two or three trips a year, not including deferred maintenance, he said.

Other local residents support the changes. Jim Collman wrote on the Juneau Empire website that “It’s better to raise the rates (than) close the cabins.”

Cabin rentals in Juneau, wrote Abbey Janes in response to the request for comment, have become “a competitive sport.”

She and her family are using their tent more to avoid that competition, she said.

According to figures provided by Cummins, Dan Moller, the Juneau Ranger District’s most popular cabin, had a 77.22 percent occupancy rate over the year’s 365 days, for a total of 1,049 visitors in the 2015 fiscal year.

Windfall Lake was the second most popular with a 76.11 percent occupancy rate; John Muir had a 73.06 percent occupancy rate. On weekends, those numbers increase to 94.19 percent, 96.77 percent, 92.26 percent and 11.04 percent, respectively.

The least used in the district is the East Turner Lake Cabin, which had a 6.59 percent occupancy rate. East Turner Lake Cabin is accessible only by float plane.

According to a FAQ sheet, maintenance on the Tongass’s 143 cabins in 2015 was $939,000, of which $275,000 came from fees. The Forest Service calculates that with inflation, it’ll cost $1,026,000 to maintain Tongass cabins in 2019. They project the cost of maintaining their 41 cabins in the Chugach will increase from $314,500 to $368,000.

Fees aren’t meant to cover 100 percent of maintenance, according to a USFS FAQ about the changes: In the 2015 fiscal year, about 30 percent of Tongass cabins’ maintenance was funded from cabin fees, and 70 percent through the USFS’s allocated budget. In the Chugach, that figure is 45 percent to 55 percent. Eighty to 95 percent of rental fees are invested in the cabins’ general operations and maintenance, Cummins wrote.

The proposal is open to public comment through Nov. 30. For more information and to comment, go to http://www.fs.usda.gov/detailfull/r10/recreation/?cid=fseprd476640&width=full.

• Contact Juneau Empire outdoors writer Mary Catharine Martin at maryc.martin@juneauempire.com.

Overnight rates at the USFS-managed Peterson Lake Cabin may go as high as $75 per night, after nearly two decades of no fee increases.

Overnight rates at the USFS-managed Peterson Lake Cabin may go as high as $75 per night, after nearly two decades of no fee increases.

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