A few charred pieces of firewood sat on Lena Beach on Saturday morning, evidence of a bonfire the night before.
Juneau Ranger District Developed Recreation Manager Marc Ramonda walked on the newly-opened road that ran through the recreation area and Ramonda chuckled when he heard about the bonfire leftovers.
“I’m not surprised,” Ramonda said. “I almost came out myself.”
The beach has been closed off-and-on since last October, and re-opened this weekend with a few new renovations. Perhaps the most notable change is that two of the five shelters on the beach have been replaced with larger, new yellow cedar-paneled shelters.
The original shelters, according to a news release from the U.S. Forest Service, were built in the 1950s and were in rough shape.
“I don’t know if I could put a number to it,” Ramonda said when talking about how overdue the renovations were. “They’ve been pretty run down for a long, long time.”
Three of the original shelters are still up, but the plan is eventually to replace all of them, Ramonda said.
The road going through the area has been reconstructed and realigned, and should be repaved in the next couple years, Ramonda said. The road is much better organized now, Ramonda said, as it is strictly a one-way road. Prior to improvements being made the road was a bit of a free-for-all with cars going both directions.
On Saturday morning, Forest Service employees were at the area putting up road signs that clearly declared it a one-way road. There are new barbecue pits as well, with cans for ashes.
There’s a new bridge over Picnic Creek, and workers removed a small culvert and fish ladder from the creek. Removing this ladder allows the creek — which is a natural salmon stream — to flow more easily. Dick Kraft, who oversaw daily operations during construction, said in the news release that they’ve already seen some salmon trying to come upstream during high tide.
This project has been years in the making, Ramonda said, with a great deal of public involvement. They collected suggestions, and one main request was that they build a larger shelter that can accommodate big groups. Ramonda said that’s in the works, and one of the remaining three shelters will be rebuilt into a large group shelter.
Others liked the area as it was, Ramonda said.
“Some people really didn’t want to see any changes,” Ramonda said, “but I think overall when we gave them the concept of what we were thinking, it seemed like (the reaction) was pretty positive.”
The price tag for the project is $1.3 million, and Ramonda said the Federal Highway Administration helped fund it through the Federal Lands Access Program that seeks to improve access to recreational areas from highways. The project was awarded to Sealaska, and Ramonda said Glacier State Contractors were the ones who did the construction and he was very happy with their work.
The recreation area will close again in October, Ramonda said, for crews to construct outhouses. Renovations will continue in the coming years to the beach area, which is located past Auke Recreation Area and before Tee Harbor.
Ramonda said the timeline for the complete renovation project is unknown, because it all depends on when they can secure funding.
“It’s nice we have this big overall plan,” Ramonda said, “but it’s going to take a while to implement the whole thing.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.