Four drive-up cabins at the Mendenhall Glacier, the Juneau area’s “most bike-accessible cabin” to a glacier north of town and the area’s “first hikeable, seashore, public use cabin” at the southern end of the road system are among the more than 50 proposed cabin projects in the Tongass and Chugach National Forests the public can comment about until Oct. 31.
Roughly 20 to 25 cabin projects, split evenly between the two forest areas, are expected to be approved by the U.S. Forest Service using $14.4 million the agency received from last year’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. An interactive map, comment portal and other details about each project are available online at the Forest Service’s Alaska region website.
“The cabin projects presented here focus on those close to communities for ease of access and are based on public input obtained by the region’s forests and districts over several years,” an overview at the project’s website notes. “The agency seeks to align cabin projects with the needs and wants of the public, provide increased recreation opportunities to meet demand, and make use of local labor, wood, mills, businesses, contractors, and partners where feasible.”
Six projects (counting the Mendenhall cluster of cabins as one) are proposed in the Juneau area. In addition to the projects referenced above, two are on Douglas Island and one along the 13-mile Montana Creek Trail. Construction on any that are approved by the Forest Service is scheduled to start in 2025.
Public comments had already been received on most of them by Friday morning, a day after the online portal went live, with strongly divided opinions.
Earning early praise is the proposed cabin at the terminus of the Herbert Glacier Trail. A website description states the project “offers high ground with sweeping views of the glacier and valley.…The trail has little elevation gain along its length, and recent renovations have allowed people of varying abilities to enjoy the trip…This would be Juneau Ranger District’s most bike-accessible cabin.”
“This is the best proposed cabin location in Juneau,” the lone commenter about the project as of early Friday wrote. “Herbert Glacier is such a beautiful area, and there’s already a well-maintained trail leading to the cabin site. This location is accessible year-round without the disruption of snow machining in the area (no offense to any snow machiners).”
Getting harsh criticism are the four cabins proposed at the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area’s campgrounds. The project summary states “being able to drive up to the cabin in the summer could be particularly attractive for families with small children, multi-generational groups, and those with mobility issues.” Users might also have access to electricity.
“I’m really opposed to this cabin idea and the other three cabins located in the campground,” the sole comments submitted as of Friday declared. “The campground is already situated well for camping in tents, trailers, campers, etc. The opportunity cost of using funding for these cabins likely means other proposed cabins in the Juneau area (that are more remote and actually promote recreating like hiking, cross country skiing, etc.) wouldn’t get built. These cabins will not solve Juneau’s issue of every cabin on the road system constantly being booked up, and aren’t in Juneau’s best interest.”
Opinions were split about the Douglas cabins, with one along the 14-mile Treadwell Ditch trail getting criticism due to its close proximity to residential areas and one at about 2,500 feet on a ridge above the Dan Moller bowl getting praise since another cabin in the heavily used vicinity is frequently booked.
The most polarizing project a day after the beginning of the comment period is the proposed Dupont Cabin at the south end of the road system, which the Forest Service states would be accessed from land and water and would provide year-round access to hunting, fishing, and recreation opportunities.”
One commenter calls it “a fantastic location” for multiple reasons including its easy access, while another asserts “this is a dangerous spot and a liability for our community. The surrounding land is for sale with commercial interest by the helicopter tour industry…a public use cabin here will directly impact prospective commercial operations. There are too many cabins on the road system.” The dissenter also notes Thane Road is a high-risk avalanche area, the cabin site is a former ammo dump and “sea level rise will make this cabin at risk by year 2050.”
Among the other Southeast Alaska proposed projects are five new or repaired cabins in the Hoonah Ranger District, three in the Sitka area, four in Petersburg, seven in Wrangell, two in Craig and three in Ketchikan.