ALASKAN UNION VOLUNTEERS BUILD PUBLIC USE CABINS By Drew Smith

Eklutna Lake lies 30 miles northeast of Anchorage within Chugach State Park, the third largest in the nation. Tucked into the mountains and bordered by forests of spruce, birch and aspen, it is a premier outdoor destination for many living in Southcentral Alaska. Visitors can hike the trails surrounding the seven-mile long glacial reservoir or fish for rainbow trout, Dolly Varden and silver salmon that swim within its 200-foot-deep turquoise waters.

With all its allure, Eklutna Lake has until recently lacked cabins close to the main roadway, which would allow greater access for families with young children and people with disabilities. The only ones available have been remote – reachable only by foot, ATV, or boat. To solve this problem, members of the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA), in partnership with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation (DNR), have undertaken the building of two cabins at the headwaters of the lake with drive-up accessibility.

It was at a conservation dinner last March, hosted by the USA with the support of the Southcentral Alaska Building and Construction Trades Council (BCTC), that local union leaders first spoke with Ben Ellis, director of the Alaska DNR, about the prospect of partnering on a project. After hearing about the need for more public use cabins at Eklutna Lake, the union community jumped at the chance to help.

“We were eager to organize around this project because it was one which we knew would be valued and used by many of our fellow Alaskans,” said Aaron Plikat, president of the Southcentral Alaska BCTC, and business rep for UA Local 367. “This cabin build allows us to use our skills to help our neighbors by giving them a way to enjoy the Alaskan wilderness.”

Plikat, along with Bronson Frye, recording-secretary for the Southcentral Alaska BCTC and business rep for IUPAT Local 1959, played a big role in coordinating the volunteer effort, which began this spring. The Alaska DNR contracted workers to drive pilings into the ground in the fall to give the volunteers a head start, and after a cold and dark Alaskan winter, members from UA Local 367 Plumbers and Steamfitters welded brackets onto the pilings to support the wooden cabin frame.

Throughout the spring and summer months, members of UA Local 367 and IUPAT Local 1959 volunteered their weekends – which many of them use for subsistence hunting and fishing – to help their local community by building the wooden structure for the first cabin. Through their efforts in partnership with the Alaska DNR, the first cabin is currently under roof and ready for staining and furnishing, and construction is beginning on the second. The volunteers and the Alaska DNR will continue their efforts as weather permits throughout the fall and into 2017.

The first cabin is 18-by-24-feet wide and can house six to eight people, and the second cabin will be slightly smaller – with room for four to six people. Both cabins will have oil-burning stoves for heat.

“We are grateful for the union volunteers who have stepped up on these cabin builds,” said Ellis. “Their efforts ensure that the Alaska DNR can spread its money further, which allows us to build more cabins and other structures that provide all Alaskans with the opportunity to venture into the outdoors.”

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Jess Levens
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