Though funding has not yet been identified, the National Park Service is proposing to build a bridge and boardwalk across the Brooks River in Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska that could cost upwards of $7.4 million.
The project, which is pending final Park Service approval by the agency's Alaska regional director, would replace a floating bridge that spans the river and offers viewing vantage points for park visitors drawn to watch brown bears feasting on salmon in the river. Park crews remove and store the floating bridge each fall until the following spring.
The Brooks River is a short river connecting Brooks Lake and Naknek Lake. Midway along the river is a low waterfall where dozens of brown bears gather each summer to catch migrating salmon. Bear viewing opportunities, along with trout and salmon fishing, a campground and lodge make the Brooks River area the most-visited part of the 4-million-acre park and preserve.
The project, which may be built in phases, is aimed at improving visitor access, safety, and resource protection in the area. The existing floating bridge and trails at the mouth of the Brooks River allow visitors and staff to move between the lodge, campground, and Park Service offices on the north side of the river and viewing platform and facilities on the south side of the river. The road leading to the Valley of 10,000 Smokes is also on the south side of the river. An expanded series of boardwalks is also called for in the plan.
The Park Service's decision to build a permanent bridge, one that could handle small vehicles and foot traffic, promoted an article in the Alaska Dispatch under the headline, Park Service proposes pricey bridge to (almost) nowhere in remote Alaska. The article questioned why the Park Service, at a time of fiscal desperation, would propose such an expensive project in a park that draws fewer than 50,000 people a year.
Under the agency's preferred alternative, a boardwalk-and-road bridge system would run about 1,500 feet (the bridge itself would only be about 350 feet) "with single access points on the north and south sides of Brooks River. The wooden short-span bridge would require up to 14 sets of steel piles in the river. The north boardwalk would start adjacent to the lodge and then continue south over wetlands to the bridge. The south boardwalk would run from the bridge, cut through a wooded area, and run along the edge of a wetland to about 100 ft from the bus parking area. The north boardwalk would have up to four viewing/pullout areas, while the south boardwalk would have up to three primary viewing/pullout areas."
There would be good and bad impacts from this proposal, the Park Service notes. On the positive side, visitors would have both a new, and safer, vantage point to view brown bears that come to the river to feed. On the negative side, the many pilings needed for the bridge would impact the fishery and hydrology,
A 1996 development plan for the Brooks River area is amended by this plan; the existing float plane landing area will not be moved, nor will a dock, breakwater or road be constructed.
The final EIS is available at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/BrooksVisitorAccessFEIS. No action will be taken on the preferred alternative for 30 days, after which a record of decision will be written.
Katmai National Park and Preserve is one of Alaska’s oldest national park areas, established in 1918. The park hosts about 40,000-50,000 visitors per year. More information on the park is available at www.nps.gov/katm