SENIOR WALK – Sitka High School seniors walk through the halls of Xoots Elementary School wearing their graduation attire this morning as they are congratulated by students. The seniors walked through the halls of both elementary schools and the middle school this morning. Seventy-four seniors will be graduating in the ceremony which begins 7 p.m. tonight in the school gym. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

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Daily Sitka Sentinel

Sawmill Creek Campground on List for Fees

By GARLAND KENNEDY

Sentinel Staff Writer

For the time being, campsites and the picnic shelter at the Sawmill Creek campground are free to use, but that’s set to change – the U.S. Forest Service plans to start charging fees to pay for maintenance and new improvements at the site.

In all, 17 recreational locations around the Tongass National Forest will see new or increased fees next year. The Sawmill Creek campground is the only site on Baranof Island or in the Sitka area that will be affected.

 

The Sawmill Creek Campground is pictured this afternoon. The U.S. Forest Service plans to start charging camping fees, likely in 2024, to help pay for maintenance and improvements at the site. A public comment period on the proposal is open through  September 30. (Sentinel Photo)

The public comment period on the fee proposals will be open from now until September 30.

Located just off the Blue Lake Road, the Sawmill Creek campground has a handful of camping spots and a pavilion. It is also one of two trail heads for the Beaver Lake Trail, but the hiking trail isn’t part of the newly proposed fee structure and will remain free to all users, Sitka Ranger District recreation staff officer Rebecca Peterman told the Sentinel.

The amenities at the site are fairly new, she noted, but over time will require more extensive and costly maintenance.

“Kind of like a new car, it has much lower operating and maintenance costs than it will as we go on,” Peterman said. “Right now, the commitments that we have to it – we either have an on-site host, or we have our host from the Starrigavan campground go out and spend about five hours a week cleaning up and removing trash and cleaning bathrooms, doing general maintenance,” Peterman said. “We also have our crew, which spends, we estimate, about 20 to 80 person-hours per year (working onsite).”

The purpose of the move is not to generate revenue for the Forest Service, she added, but rather to offset the costs of operating the facilities.

“Something that’s unique about the fee sites is the majority of the money that’s brought into our fee sites is required to stay or be used at the fee sites,” Peterman said. “The money that we collect is going to go directly back into maintaining the improvements there. There’s the vault toilet, picnic tables, fire rings, bear resistant trash receptacles, as well as bear boxes for storing food and bear attractants. We don’t see this as really a money making move; it’s a sustainability move.”

The proposed fee is $25, and the change will likely take effect in 2024, Peterman said. 

The structures on the Sawmill Creek Campground date from the 2015 expansion of the Blue Lake Dam. Previously there was a campground there, but it had been closed for years.

The proposed fee structure will give Sitkans the ability to reserve sites, though Peterman was unsure whether the Sawmill Creek campground would be added to the existing listings on recreation.gov, where people can already reserve campsites and cabins around the Tongass.

The annual cost of maintaining the Sawmill Creek campground is about $31,000, said John Suomala, Recreation and Wilderness Program manager on the Tongass.

“It’s variable from site to site,” he said. “We have many sites that are easily accessible by road and others that are remote, so that’s going to have a big influence on cost to maintain. But I think, either way, we’re looking at increases on the things that we do, whether it’s providing wood, or maintaining our stoves or pumping out outhouses… At the forest level, we’re doing a lot of work to staff up our recreation departments in various districts.”

In recent years, he continued, the Forest Service has sometimes struggled to find the staff needed to maintain recreation sites on the forest.

“We’re having lots of projects, probably not enough people to accomplish them all on the timeline we’re hoping for,” he concluded.

Other locations planned for increased user fees are the Pack Creek Wildlife Viewing site on Admiralty Island, the Eight Fathom cabin near Hoonah on Chichagof Island, the Kennel Creek cabin, also near Hoonah, among other sites.

Peterman said new amenities at the Sawmill Creek site, such as a cabin or additional covered structures, are possible in the future. 

Without a fee and reservation structure in place, such as what is already implemented at the popular Starrigavan campground, the agency can’t quantify exactly how much use can be expected at the Sawmill Creek site, where there is presently no onsite host, Peterman said. 

“It’s all anecdotal, but our best guess from what we’ve seen is that Sawmill Creek does get much less use than Starrigavan… Most of the use is day use, so that picnic shelter, people going to hike Beaver Lake are in there, people going just with their families,” she said.

Once a site has a user fee, Suomala said, that increases the level of priority for maintenance and improvement there.

“It allows us to identify sites that are really important to the public and things we want to continue to maintain at a higher level.”

Comments on the user fee plans can be submitted online at https://usfs.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapSeries/index.html?appid=367c1be8ea724c8abe126fd886bc937e, a website that includes a detailed, interactive map of the region. Comments can also be emailed to sm.fs.tnfrecfee@usda.gov or sent by paper mail Tongass National Forest – Ketchikan SO, Attention: John Suomala, Recreation & Wilderness Program Manager, 648 Mission Street, Suite No. 110, Ketchikan, AK 99901.

Comments can also be made in person at the Sitka Forest Service office on Halibut Point Road or by phone at 907-228-6215.

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20 YEARS AGO

May 2004

Dr. Arthur Cleveland, a former dean at Columbus State University in Georgia, was named the new president of Sheldon Jackson College, SJC officials announced today. He will be replacing C. Carlyle Haaland, who has held the position for four years.


50 YEARS AGO

May 1974

Coaching and managing the Little League teams this year are John Abbott and John Calhoun, ANB; Dale and DeWayne Vilandre, Alaska Federal; Walt Barker, Elks; Frank Simmons and Frank Vilandre, Lions; Leo Bacon, Pat Ness, Cliff Robards and Bob Edenso, Moose; and Everett Webb, Sportsmen. Head umpire is Carl Karpstein.

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