Rec-tech for a day: Misty Fiords by floatplane

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This is a guest post by Travis Bushman.. thanks for being so generous with your (furloughed) time to share these with us!

This is partially a meditation on the challenge of developed recreation on the Tongass, and partially an excuse to post some spectacular aerial photos of Misty Fiords.

The week before the furlough hit, I had a chance to get out of my third-floor office at the SO and get into the field — both to provide an extra pair of hands to the Ketchikan district recreation staff and to gain an understanding of the challenge they face in maintaining the Tongass’ developed recreation infrastructure.

Our day’s work plan involved making end-of-season visits to a number of recreation cabins in Misty Fiords National Monument. We’d be cleaning out garbage, hauling skiffs out of the lakes, inspecting facility conditions and documenting any urgent maintenance problems that would need attention before the winter hits. On any other district of any other national forest, this would likely involve two people getting a pickup truck out of the motor pool and spending the day driving around forest roads.

Not on the Tongass.

Rather, the three of us drove down to the docks and boarded a contract DHC-2 Beaver floatplane, which proceeded to hopscotch across the 2.3-million-acre monument, setting us down at eight lakeside rental cabins in breathtaking, almost-inaccessible settings. There is no way into any of these cabins except by floatplane or helicopter. Many of them are in designated wilderness and must be maintained without power tools. Cabin maintenance crews even split logs with a maul and wedge to provide fuel for those cabins which have wood stoves.

We returned after a full day in the monument with 13 full garbage bags, 11 empty propane cylinders and a couple broken fishing poles all loaded in the floats — and I brought back a new appreciation for the hard work of the cabin crews, whose numbers continue to dwindle.

That, and it hit home just how much it costs to do anything in Misty Fiords. This one trip to eight cabins — out of the ~150 the forest operates — cost about $3,000 just for the flight. Or, put in another way, we expended 125 nights of rental fees from a single cabin. That’s the cost of doing business in the 17-million-acre maze of islands and fjords that is the Tongass, and it’s an increasing challenge in an era of declining budgets.

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