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Is National Park Service Embarking On A Bridge Too Far, And Costly, At Katmai National Park?


National Park Service officials are supporting a proposal to build a pedestrian-and-car bridge across the Brooks River in Katmai National Park and Preserve to replace a floating bridge. NPS photo of the existing floating bridge by Kent Miller, map from EIS.

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 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


$7.4 million in new infrastructure proposed for a park that costs almost thousand dollars in charter flights to reach from Anchorage? "Millions" more for a proposed new trail at Rocky Mountain NP, while we have a national maintenance backlog of billions? And NPS management has the incredible arrogance to threaten us with park closures if their budget is cut?

That's a BIG bundle of dollars. The map doesn't indicate if there is an existing road to provide vehicle access to the visitor center area at Brooks Camp. If a road already exists, why does this bridge need to provide for vehicles? How much does it cost now to assemble and disassemble the bridge each year?

Probably most important is the question of who is pushing for this bridge? Which Congress person has a brother-in-law or campaign contributor who will profit? If that is the case, we'll never be able to find out because they usuallly manage to hide their involvement quite thoroughly. Before blaming NPS management, we may need to try to find out what powerful figures are pulling strings backstage.

Not a wise move.

Probably most important is the question of who is pushing for this bridge?

No, that is probably the least important factor. What is important is if the bridge is necessary and economic and of higher priority. ( all of which IMO are doubtful) Who is promoting is immaterial. You need to stop being such an angry man and start looking at the merits of issues rather than picking your sides based on who is for or against it.

I'm not angry. Just disgusted at the political pressures exerted on so many projects like this. It would be a total surprise if a search for the Almighty Dollar isn't behind this somewhere.

Surely even you will agree that honest politicians are very rare. They probably should be receiving protection from the Endangered Species Act.

Surely even you will agree that honest politicians are very rare.

Sorry Lee, while you seem to believe that politicians are on the take for financial gain, I am far more fearful that they are intellectually dishonest for the sake of being politically correct and reelectable. Its power that perverts them far more than money.

Power, money. In today's world, aren't those pretty much one and the same?

But it appears that you do agree that honest politicians are pretty rare.

I have always wanted to go to Brooks Falls and watch the grizzlies catch and eat salmon. Whether this bridge is for safety, access, etc... would be more important question for me. Also if there is a lower cost alternative to get the result wanted. From what I have read about the area in the past, limited amount of visitors are taken to a platform for viewing. Would this dramatically raise the number of viewers without disturbing the Bears? Maybe someone has more insight who has been there.

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