Starrigavan Cabin on the Tongass National Forest near Sitka.

Starrigavan Cabin on the Tongass National Forest near Sitka.

Fees go up for popular Juneau-area Public Use Cabins

Offering miles of access to world-class hiking and camping terrain, the U.S. Forest Service’s 184 Public Use Cabins are in high demand across Alaska. Bookings often lock up months in advance, and reserving PUC cabins has become a competitive sport for many Juneauites.

Weekend and holiday bookings for the popular Dan Moller PUC, for one, are tied up through July 7. The cabin typically sees about 250 nights a year of use.

With PUC rentals more popular than ever, this year that weekend in the woods may cost you more: On Jan. 1, the Forest Service implemented their 2017 rate adjustments, adding between $5 and $10 to the nightly costs of the most popular Juneau-area cabins.

The rate adjustments are part of the Forest Service’s plan to update fee structures to match the true cost of operating cabins.

“Fees haven’t been increased since the ‘90s, but the cost of maintaining cabins is expensive and has gone up,” Recreation, Lands and Minerals Director James King said Tuesday. “Fuel costs, heli time, employee costs, supplies — all of these have gone up. What we’re trying to do is continue to offer this service. We’re able to keep most of this revenue and turn around and put it back in the cabins.”

Peterson Lake, Dan Moller, Windfall Lake and John Muir cabins all saw rate increases Jan. 1. Many less popular cabins saw little or no increase in 2017. A third round of fee adjustments is planned for 2018.

New nightly rates vary on a cabin-to-cabin basis, with the final calculus determined by market comparisons, public demand and evaluations of cabin amenities.

In other words, if the cabin you plan on booking is popular and accessible by road, you can expect rates to go up; if cabin bookings are less competitive — or the site is only accessible by boat — fees may stay the same or go down.

Dan Moller now costs $55 a night, up from $45 in 2016. Prior to the first round of rate adjustments, the cabin cost $35.

New fee structures will allow popular cabins, like Dan Moller, to subsidize others, like Admiralty Island’s Hasselberg Creek cabin, which is sometimes booked less than 30 nights a year.

Hasselberg Creek fees were adjusted down this year from $25 per night, to a $25 fee in the summer months and a $15 a night cost from Oct. 1 to April 30, when winter seas make the cabin much harder to access.

The fee for Berners Bay cabin, increased in 2016, didn’t see an increase in 2017.

The main variable in the PUC cost equation: access. King says cabins within walking distance of Juneau’s road system have become more popular in recent years, with more remote cabins dropping in popularity.

The fee adjustments are part of a strategy to avoid the possible shuttering of the Forest Service’s more remote cabins, many accessible only by boat. Cabin closure, he says, has been a lively discussion over the years, but the decision is not purely economic.

“Over the years, there’s been discussion of closing or removing some of these remote cabins— and there’s a lively discussion about, well, sometimes they provide a safety net for boaters who are out,” King said. “But there are others that maybe don’t fit that description. We don’t have the resources we used to have, over time, so we’re trying hard to provide the best possible service to the people that we can with the limited resources that we can.”

• Contact Sports and Outdoors reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 or kevin.gullufsen@juneauempire.com.

Erik Boraas at the Denver Caboose Cabin near Skagway in the Tongass National Forest.

Erik Boraas at the Denver Caboose Cabin near Skagway in the Tongass National Forest.

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