Should Katmai National Park Replace Its Swikshak Patrol "Cabin"? One Picture Should Answer That Question

Katmai National Park officials want to replace this backcountry patrol "cabin" with a somewhat stouter facility identical in size to the Amalik Patrol Cabin pictured in the lower photo. NPS photos.

Every now and then a project proposed by the National Park Service stands out. That certainly seems to be the case of the proposal from Katmai National Park and Preserve to replace a plywood box long used as the backcountry patrol cabin on the coast of Shelikof Strait with a more weather-proof and comfortable facility.

Just look at the existing "cabin," which dates to 1971 when the Alaska Fish and Game Department built the 10-foot-by-12-foot shelter for use as a razor clam research facility, according to park officials.

The cabin originally contained two bunks, shelving, a wood stove, and a food storage barrel. Adjacent to the cabin was a 12’ x 7.5’ sauna and an outhouse (both structures have since collapsed and are no longer in use). The cabin served as an ADF&G research facility until 1975. Beginning as early as 1983, the NPS began using the patrol cabin as a shelter for backcountry patrols. Over the last 25 years, the cabin has continued to provide NPS staff a base camp while conducting coastal patrols along the northern half of the Katmai coast between Cape Douglas and Hallo Bay during the summer months when commercially guided sport fishing and bear viewing activities are at their highest levels. During this time period, the cabin has steadily deteriorated due to a combination of the types of building materials used to construct the cabin (plywood with tar paper roofing), harsh coastal weather conditions, and occasional damage caused by brown bears and other wildlife. Examples of this deterioration include a leaking roof, wood rot on the ceiling and floor, gaps and holes on the wall, and intermittently working oil heater and propane cooking stove. Due to this deterioration, the NPS determined that the cabin was no longer safe to occupy. Backcountry rangers continue to use the area adjacent to the cabin as a base camp by setting up tents and a temporary electric perimeter fence for bear protection.

Under the park's current proposal, which you can comment on through March 3, the preferred solution to this dilapidated structure is to raze it and construct a 20-foot-by-12-foot cabin from a kit. A new outhouse also would be built, under this proposal, and a rain catchment system would be constructed to provide water for the cabin.

The interior of the cabin would be designed and constructed to accommodate two people for extended occupation. The cabin would be elevated above the ground between approximately 18” and 24” on pilings, allowing for the temporary storage of boats, kayaks, and other large items.

Anti-reflective photo-voltaic solar panels would be installed on the cabin roof to power a small low-wattage battery system. The power would be used for light bulbs and to charge NPS radios and other portable equipment. A radio antenna would be installed and extend between 6’ and 8’ above the roof. A ladder and small platform would be installed on the rear of the cabin to enable park staff to set up and remove the solar panel(s) and radio antenna, when needed.

Since the nearest freshwater source is located approximately 1/2 mile north of the cabin on the north shore of Swikshak Lagoon, a 50 gallon rainwater cistern would be installed under or immediately adjacent to the cabin. Rainwater would be collected from the roof (approximately 400 sq ft of surface area) and channeled to the cistern through a system of gutters and pipes. A hand operated pump would provide water to a kitchen sink.

A burner propane stove and oven would be installed in the cabin for cooking. A propane tank shelter box would be constructed on the exterior of the cabin to protect gas lines and prevent wildlife damage. The cabin would be equipped with a battery powered smoke detector and fire extinguisher. A steel storage box would be installed immediately adjacent to the cabin for fuel and boat motor storage.

Why the need to construct a backcountry patrol cabin next to Swikshak Lagoon? For starters, so rangers can "protect and manage the extensive Katmai coast during the summer months when visitation is at its highest levels," note park officials, and so those rangers will have a "safe and durable hard-sided shelter for protection against inclement weather and occasional undesirable wildlife encounters."

If approved and funded, the project could begin this summer.

To view or comment on the EA, head over to this site. You also can send your comments to Daniel Noon, Chief of Environmental Planning, Katmai National Park and Preserve, P.O. Box 7, King Salmon, AK 99613-0007.

Comments

My God, why would it not be approved? Give these dedicated people a decent cabin to live in while out in the wilds, protecting your park. You can bet the "cream of the crop" of the Park Service does not live in conditions such as this.

I looked it up:

Swikshak Cabin Replacement
http://parkplanning.nps.gov/projectHome.cfm?parkId=13&projectId=25601

It's in designated wilderness. This is beyond maintaining an existing building, but rather demolishing the old one and constructing a new building. Part of it is probably a consequence of the wilderness designation.

Besides that, an environmental impact assessment is pretty much required for any federal "project".

Yes the old cabin is useless and should be removed along with the outhouse, but this is designated wilderness and permanent structures are not allowed except under specific conditions, which I believe are not met. The Environmental Assessment fell woefully short in providing a range of alternatives, rather it provided two, a no action alternative and a build the cabin preferred alternative. There are more appropriate alternatives which were not considered. A cabin in the wilderness is an attraction which will increase and concentrate use. One great threat to wilderness are small incremental management actions which eventually add up to loss of wilderness character; this cabin is a perfect example of that incremental creep. I'm opposed. DCP.

Why would the Park Service spend tax dollars we don't have for a nice vacation spot for the employees!!! Oh I get it, must be stimulus dollars.

Anonymous says: "Why would the Park Service spend tax dollars we don't have for a nice vacation spot for the employees!!!"

Sounds like Anonymous has never been on a lengthy backcountry patrol during bad weather in a remote area such as Katmai :-)

I'm just wondering who exactly is staying in one of these things. My first impression would be a number of different NPS staff including scientists doing research or law enforcement rangers. The official description says it's used for backcountry patrol rangers. I suppose the alternative would be a tent and an electric fence to protect the NPS employees' food supply from bears.

I'd hardly think it would be considered a "vacation spot" even if it were replaced with a minimally acceptable building. It doesn't sound as if the proposed replacement would be open to the public except in case of emergency.

What "additional alternatives" does DCP suggest?

Isolated patrol cabins, separated by tens of miles, at a density of one per million acres, are not an intrusion on Wilderness. Isolated rustic log cabins are an intrinsic element of the historic palette of Alaskan wilderness. They are part of a continuing thread of minimal human presence in this vastness, dating back through centuries to Russian fur traders, through millenia of First Nations occupation.

The concept of Wilderness as utterly devoid of even these isolated signs of transient human presence is a Disneyland caricature of reality, one which ignores history and is neither justified nor mandated under the Wilderness Act paragraphs 4(a)(3) and (c).

There is emotion and romance to the concept of Wilderness, DCP, and the argument can be made with passion and sincere conviction on both sides. Both aspects of Wilderness merit our respect. The Wilderness Act para 4(a)(3) "shall in no manner lower the standards..." charges us with reconciling both views harmoniously. Doing so is essential to preserving public support for the concept of Wilderness and for future wilderness designations.

Especially in Alaska.

Peace.

How I wish now that it was not approved as the search for my friend Park Ranger Mason McLeod continues. He was one of the rangers sent to tear down the old cabin.

Just read your post about the Swikshak cabin and I'd like to let you know that you are in my thoughts, as are all of Mason's friends and family. I work as a ranger in Katmai and this is extremely difficult for everyone, even those who don't know what a great person Mason is. Let's just keep hoping and praying for the best..