On-line Book

Recreational Resources of the Alaska Highway and Other Roads in Alaska







The Allure of Alaska

Means of Access to Alaska

Major Roads of Alaska

Provisions for Recreational Use

A Plan for Recreational Facilities

Putting the Plan into Effect

Recreational Resources of the Alaska Highway and Other Roads in Alaska
National Park Service Arrowhead

Chapter VI:

After deciding the type and extent of facilities needed to serve recreational travelers in Alaska, whether visitors or residents, the advisability of putting the plan into effect must be considered, and means by which that result may be achieved, if it is deemed worthy.

There must be examination into approximate costs involved, the capital investment to be made before service can be offered the using public. Soundness of investment must be tested, assurance obtained that returns, whether direct or indirect, will be commensurate. Sources of funds must be analyzed. Machinery must be set up to carry on the detailed planning and supervision of construction which are necessary to successful provision of facilities. The manner of administering facilities must be determined, and arrangements perfected for such administration.

Figure 63.—Devil's Elbow, Tsaina River.

APPROXIMATE COSTS INVOLVED. Detailed estimates of cost must obviously await and accompany the final plans from which physical features will be built. The program has not yet been crystallized enough to allow calculation of every cubic yard of earth to be moved or of the exact number of shingles needed to cover yet uncounted roofs. It is possible, however, to arrive at a general approximation of the overall costs which may be expected.

The major items which make up the costs of such projects normally fall into the classifications of (1) purchases of land, (2) roads, and (3) buildings and their contributory utilities.

Lands. It has been noted that the Alaska Highway and the other roads in the Territory pass largely through lands which are still in public ownership. Such homesteads and other entries as have already been perfected have not prevented the selection of advantageous sites for the required recreational facilities. Therefore the subject of land purchase may be dismissed with the simple statement that no action of the nature will be necessary.

Roads. The direct improvements to the highways which have been suggested in Chapter IV will act to promote greater recreational use of the roads and fuller enjoyment of that use. However, their cost should be considered as chargeable to maintenance and operation of the roads, and not properly as a part of the provision of facilities for lodging, feeding, entertaining, and informing those who will travel the system.

Extensions of the highway for the primary purpose of viewing the surrounding countryside do fall in the latter category, whether they are simple wide spaces in the road or loops to better points of vantage. They are unnecessary for accomplishment of travel over the roads, but advisable primarily to increase the pleasure which will be derived by sightseeing travelers. It is estimated that there may be needed as many as 100 major opportunities to pull off the traveled way, that a typical one may include an area of as much as 1,200 square yards of gravel surfacing, and that a fair average cost, complete with guard rail or rampart where items of that nature are needed, would approximate $6,000.

At vacation areas and major and secondary overnight stopping places it will be necessary to build entrance and service drives, parking spaces, and service courts. Gravel surfacing will probably be adequate for these features and for view overlooks, without recourse to bituminous treatment, even if through highways are so improved. This assumption is based upon the theory that travel speeds will be decreased within the immediate environs of lodge and camp grounds. Should this premise be disproved and treatment become necessary, costs will increase accordingly. It is estimated that minor roads and graveled areas will average 5,000 square yards for secondary stopping places, 7,500 for major ones, and 10,000 for the vacation area at Mentasta Lake. The costs involved should not exceed $4 per square yard, a figure roughly twice that of straight-run highway construction in Alaska.

Buildings and Utilities. Developmental costs for the structures and public utilities which will be included in the growth of potential communities are not estimated. It is reasoned that these will not be installed by any governmental agency or under subsidy from it, but by private enterprise working in conformity with policies and standards which will be established by the General Land Office. As communities expand, need will arise for public systems of water supply and distribution and sewage collection and disposal, items which should concern the cities immediately upon their incorporation.

As opposed to communities, the various vacation areas and overnight stops in natural surroundings should probably be initiated by the use of public funds, whether or not the whole program is finished through this medium. The need for stopping places is pressing if Alaska is to be accessible to motor tourists. Provision of such facilities by private enterprise usually awaits a demonstration of need more forcible than the theoretical proof of this report. Installation of a leaven of well-planned and satisfactory accommodations by public agencies will go far to set standards for developments by private capital and to discourage enterprises of haphazard and undesirable character.

Overall figures set upon the costs of buildings and utilities required at the various areas will necessarily be approximate, since detailed planning must precede detailed calculations of construction costs. Plans worked out for Mentasta Lake include enough detail to permit a more finished analysis of costs, but even here there is nothing to indicate that revisions of considerable moment will not be involved before development is attempted.

From experience in the provision of comparable facilities in the States, and with due allowance for the "Alaska differential", it appears that the estimate for buildings at Mentasta Lake should be not less than $180,000, for utilities $60,000, and for landscape embellishment $12,000. Major and secondary overnight stops might run one-half and one-third as much, respectively.

The cost of needed professional services in the fields of engineering, architecture, and landscape architecture, for preparation of detailed surveys and plans, and for supervision of construction, will run higher in Alaska than in the States. It should aggregate about 6 percent of the total costs for the items with which it is concerned.

Figure 64.—Liberty Falls, Edgerton Cutoff.

Markers and Signs. Mileage and directional signs are recognized as adjuncts to ordinary use of the highways, and their installation as a function of the administering agency. Because of the essential governmental nature of the service, benefiting the traveler for business or sightseer alike, its cost is not considered as a proper charge to use for recreational travel alone.

Interpretive signs, on the contrary, are classed as primary aids to touring. The program is subject to elaboration or restraint, both in number and in unit cost of signs. It lends itself to modest beginnings, augmented as justified by use. At the start it will be well to install a few effective and permanent markers, rather than to attempt full coverage with makeshift temporary affairs which must be replaced later. One hundred markers at an average cost of $200 will make an acceptable start toward interpreting Alaska's scenic splendors and historic assets to its interested visitors.

Summary of recommended expenditures for recreational facilities

Land Purchases (none required).
View Overlooks (100 @ $6,000)
Developed Areas:
   Mentasta Lake:
      Incidental Roads
      Buildings and Utilities240,000
      Landscape Improvement12,000


   Major Overnight Stops (each of 19):
      Incidental Roads
      Buildings and Utilities120,000
      Landscape Improvement6,000


   Secondary Overnight Stops (each of 4):
      Incidental Roads
      Buildings and Utilities80,000
      Landscape Improvement4,000

Interpretive Signs, (100 @ $200)20,000
Surveys, Plans, and Supervision180,000
Total Estimated Recommendations

THE ECONOMIC SOUNDNESS OF EXPENDITURES. It has been stated that, ordinarily, all plans for improvements must be appraised as to their economic soundness. So far as the expenditures recommended by this report are concerned, it would be a simple matter to generalize that without them travel by automobile to Alaska would be almost impossible; that such travel for normal business is essential to the future economic welfare of a great country, hitherto largely unutilized; therefore, any cost is justified to achieve a result so generally conceded as desirable. But what profits will be returned, in addition, from the recreational use which will follow the installation of facilities, but which would not accrue without them?

Pertinent parallels may be drawn from facts cited by the Tennessee Division of State Information in the April 1944 issue of "The Tennessee Planner". It summarizes results of a comprehensive survey of tourist travel into the state for about 18 months just prior to war restrictions.

Analysis of included data reveals that 26,223,635 tourist nights were spent in Tennessee during 1941. The article also states, with regard to Tennessee, that "the investment in hotels, tourist courts, and other facilities engaged either wholly or part-time in the tourist business amounts, in round figures, to $250,000,000". The plant investment for tourist accommodation is $9.53 per tourist-night per annum.

How does this compare with facilities recommended for Alaskan roads? From the table of expected use on page 54, it is estimated that the combined daily load at Mentasta Lake and the major and secondary stopping places will total 1,600 persons, 102,400 for the 64-day season. If tourists spend with the same freedom as those in Tennessee, investment of $975,872 is justified for these 24 sites, upon the basis of recreational travel.

Wide variations must be expected, however, in the spending capacities of visitors to Tennessee and of adventurers to Alaska. The eight states contiguous to Tennessee, from which a large proportion of its tourist travel is drawn, average about 40 percent below the nation-wide economic level, if per capita effective buying income is accepted as a criterion. As has already been pointed out, most tourists who essay the long trip from the States to Alaska will be drawn from the higher economic strata.

The same article shows that the 1941 Tennessee tourist spent $2 a day for food and lodging while in the state. The North Pacific Planning Project, in its study of postwar use and maintenance of the Alaska Highway, has estimated conservatively that these costs will run from $5.25 to $6.00 for travel along the Highway to and in Alaska. On the lower basis, expenditures for facilities can justifiably be increased by 162.5 percent, thus becoming over $2,500,000. Revenue accruing to the operators from local business has not been considered.

Comparisons with capital investments in Tennessee may be enlightening, but the basic question still persists. What profits will return from provisions for recreational use? To sum up such returns, some of which are tangible and others less evident, it is necessary to consider direct returns from the facilities, whether to the public treasury or to individual citizens, and those which do not come directly from the facilities although possible only because of their existence.

If accommodations are provided by the government and remain public property, as is recommended, and since their operation can hardly be considered and entered into as a governmental function, it may be inferred that the owner should receive a just fee in return for any franchise granted to a private agency to operate the facilities for profit. Such fees are direct returns to the public treasury. To what extent would they amass?

Figure 65.—Chugach Mountains from the Glenn Highway.

Information may be gained from experience in the operation of similar facilities in National Parks. Tourist conditions at four of the eight previously-cited areas are like those anticipated along Alaska roads. During a recent normal travel year, before the influence of gasoline and rubber scarcity was felt, direct returns from those four parks to the public treasury in the form of franchise fees from concessioners ran to about $.10 per tourist-day. At that rate, from the expected seasonal visitation to Mentasta and the major and secondary stopping places, there would be recovered annually $10,240. If this sum is regarded as interest, at the rate which the United States offers its citizens through war bonds, the justifiable investment, for this fractional return, would amount to over $350,000.

Direct returns to the individual citizen will be mostly in the form of payment for personal service, in connection with the construction of facilities or with their operation after they are completed. Conservative estimates indicate that at least half the recommended construction costs will be in wages for skilled and unskilled labor.

Labor will also be needed to maintain the plant throughout the year and offer service to tourists in the summer. Assume the seasonal employment of a dozen persons at Mentasta and five at each overnight stop. Three months time for 125 persons is involved, besides the 30 who remain on year-round duty. Certainly more than $150,000 will be paid out each year to those who serve the tourist.

Indirect financial benefits to Alaska and to its citizens through tourist travel will be important. A total of 384,000 tourist-days per annum has been projected as a possibility. Leaving out those who will travel by bus, and assuming four passengers to a car as a reasonable compromise between economy of transportation and comfort of passage, there are involved annually about 15 million car-miles in Alaska. The added 75 million miles which must be traveled between the home garage and the boundary of the Territory may interest cost-defraying riders but do not enter into the Alaska picture.

Planning authorities previously cited from the Pacific Northwest estimate that motor tourists will spend an average of $1.00 per day per person for incidentals other than food and lodging while in Alaska, and that automobile operation costs beyond the southerly end of the Alaska Highway will be about $.047 per car-mile, exclusive of depreciation and fixed charges. Upon that basis, the expected 48,000 tourists will leave $1,000,000 of new money in the Territory each year. Ten per cent of this, or $100,000, might well be counted as clear profit to Alaskan residents who will serve the tourist. These receipts will be attendant upon recreational travel from the United States. The Alaska Highway has made this possible, but unless procurement of food and lodging along the way is made easy, little travel will result.

The indirect consequences of postwar use of the roads of Alaska can hardly be appraised in dollars-and-cents value to the Territory and to the nation. Highway access to Alaska will act as a stimulus to further settlement. Alaska is coming of age; if it is to take its right and proper place in the political and economic pattern of the nation it needs the larger population which it can so well support as much as the nation requires the wise utilization of Alaska's resources. Discouragement of potential settlers through failure to adopt simple measures which will facilitate travel is as inimical to the best interests of Alaska and Alaskans as to those of the thousands of outlanders whose interest in the Territory is so apparent.

SOURCES OF FUNDS. Construction of the Alaska and Glenn Highways has been financed through funds made available as a military necessity. Granting that the same military necessity has not dictated the inclusion of features essential to post war travel but irrelevant to military use, it seems that full returns should be garnered from the in vestment and its value maintained through adaptation to civil use. From whence and through what channels should come the requisite financing?

The status of Alaska as a territory, administered by the Federal government, makes it necessary that costs involved be assumed by that government, since dependence upon private enterprise to initiate and prosecute an acceptable program of development has been demonstrated as uncertain.

Ordinary operation of affairs in the Territory is covered by funds provided by the Congress through the regular channels of legislative appropriation. Specific items of plant improvement are likewise included, as the need for them arises. Perhaps this will prove the most appropriate source of funds for undertaking the provision of accessories necessary to Alaskan highway travel, although an alternative method suggests itself. Pro vision of tourist facilities along the roads of Alaska would fit well into a program of postwar public works for presentation by some government agency. Perhaps other proposals will be received for bringing the highways themselves to their deserved status.

Private enterprise may anticipate, but less than adequately, the opportunity which will accompany the opening of the Alaska Highway to private use. Some time will elapse before accommodations for the traveler can be provided by governmental action. Purely as an interim proposal, and solely to make early private travel possible, it is recommended that legislation be enacted which would authorize the Secretary of the Interior, at his discretion, to lease to private interests, for the purpose of furnishing lodging, meals, and automobile supplies and repairs, any of the sites herein proposed for such use. Construction of the facilities and their operation by the lessee should conform to general standards and policies herein established, and be subject to approval by the Secretary. Pro vision should be included for cancellation of the leases and recovery of plant by the government, contingent upon fair reimbursement to the lessees.

PLANNING AND CONSTRUCTION. When the extent of the program has been determined and financing arranged, there must be planning, building, super vising, and arranging for operation, before the tourist may start north with full confidence that his comfort and convenience are assured. If facilities are provided by the Federal government, responsibility must be assigned to some agency of that government for obtaining results which have been anticipated and for which funds have been set aside. Various agencies have been concerned with public works of this nature; creditable ends would probably result from the delegation of responsibility to any one of several. It is not within the province of this report to recommend a specific recipient for the task, but some of the things which must be done can well be recited.

Detailed topographic surveys must be obtained of the sites chosen for development. A knowledge of the nature and distribution of vegetative cover is essential. Direction and extent of featured views must be recorded, and the possibilities for water supply and sewage disposal investigated.

The site plan is begun. Needed facilities are listed and so arranged upon the site as to take the best advantage of land characteristics. Architect and landscape architect each bring to the task the particular knowledge which education and experience have given him.

Detailed plans are prepared for structures and accessories, whether for lodge buildings, cabins, retaining walls, small-boat piers, approach roads, parking lots, service garages, water supply, sewage disposal, or what-not. Estimates of quantities and costs involved are compiled, and contracts awarded. It will be asked whether these things can not be built without detailed planning. The answer is that they can be and have been built, in the States and to a greater degree in Alaska, without benefit of technical service. Too many structures in the Territory have been closely akin to Topsy; there should be a fruitful field for architecture in the cycle of development which appears ahead.

The corollary is that the "Topsy" is razed far sooner than its neighbor of professional design, not always because of structural instability, often be cause of more expensive operation or maintenance, sometimes because it fails to attract deserved business to occupant tenants.

Professional planning is usually moderate in cost when compared with the total expenditures for the planned structure; it almost always creates, by an ingenuity of arrangement, operational savings which offset its own cost within a comparatively limited period; it often accomplishes immediate savings in construction costs far beyond its own very modest expense. The value of professional planning and supervision to construction projects is generally recognized.

The manner in which construction of facilities will be carried on depends largely upon the way in which funds are provided for their establishment.

If appropriations are made through the ordinary legislative channels, the most feasible procedure will probably lie in award of contracts covering the desired improvements. Exception is noted with regard to the roadside view overlooks, which most certainly should be constructed by one of the two governmental road-building agencies which have functioned in Alaska for many years. Whether the approaches and incidental roads appurtenant to the various lodging places should be similarly excepted depends upon the final arrangement of site plans. Relatively short approaches could well be included in the general site contract, longer ones will fall naturally to the lot of the road-building agency.

Should construction be financed through a post war work program, procedure would depend upon the form taken by that program. During the decade prior to Pearl Harbor, needed plant improvements like those required in Alaska were afforded to many Federal and State parks under circumstances which may be paralleled in postwar years. Those coming through participation in Public Works Administration grants were constructed under contract; more were built by Civilian Conservation Corps enrollees under the supervision of the National Park Service.

Either method would be adaptable, if available, to Alaskan needs. Participation in any program modeled along the lines of PWA would involve the advance preparation of detailed plans, but less field supervision. A distinctive feature of the CCC plan of action was the creation, within itself but as a responsibility of the supervisory agency, of a directive and technical group. Flexibility of program was thus assured and results obtained, in many types of construction, which were superior to those which could have been accomplished through the contract procedure prevalent under PWA.

Figure 66.—Protected waters of the Inside Passage, near Juneau.

ADMINISTRATION OF FACILITIES. Consideration of the manner of administering future vacation and tourist facilities along the roads of Alaska resolves into two parts; (1) under whose general supervision and control shall they be operated, and (2) how will actual operation be carried on? Derivative from these appears a third; should all the facilities be subject to the same control and operation?

It is immediately apparent that they should not. View overlooks and interpretive signs do not fall in the same category as the other facilities. View overlooks have been described as lateral extensions of highways; their construction by a road-building agency has been recommended; their maintenance should logically be a function and responsibility of the highway-administering agency. Because the interpretive signs are so closely keyed to the view overlooks, and since installation and maintenance of distance-markers and directional signs are parts of road administration, there is good precedent for suggesting the inclusion of interpretive signs with those of other types. In preparing the text for these markers, road administrators should seek and be afforded the aid and advice of other government agencies most concerned.

Relation to Private Operations. The two primary questions apply then only to facilities which may be established at Mentasta Lake and at major and secondary overnight stopping places, through use of public funds. Roadhouses which already exist and operate under private auspices are obviously not subject to the same degree of control which should accompany use of government-furnished accessories.

In recommending sites for development, care has been taken not to infringe upon the territory of roadhouses which are apparently going concerns and which seem qualified to render to future travelers the adequate service to which they are entitled. Deviations from this principle are in the suggested accommodations at Summit Lake, not more than ten miles from Paxson's, and on the Glenn Highway opposite Nelchina Glacier, less than five miles from the not yet fully developed Eureka roadhouse.

The facilities at Summit Lake would be off the Richardson Highway, reached from the possible road from Mentasta Lake to Mount McKinley National Park, and should not be initiated prior to that road. Until such time, Paxson's will serve all the needs in that vicinity. The Nelchina location has been selected as offering a setting more pleasing to the traveler than the site of Eureka's present rather rudimentary accommodations. If the quality of these is improved to recommended standards, the Nelchina site may perhaps be dropped from further consideration. Possibly proprietors of roadhouses thus affected might look with favor upon the chance to operate superior Government-provided facilities in the neighborhood as concessioners.

If the expected volume of travel materializes, there are existing roadhouses whose proprietors will find it necessary to increase guest capacities of their own establishments. In truth, they may derive, from this report and its recommendations, many helpful hints on making these enterprises more attractive to the tourist.

It is not the intent of this report to suggest a ban upon the development of tourist stopping-places by private capital in locations other than those listed for governmental provision. The listings and recommendations are aimed at one end, and one alone, that of having ready, as soon as possible, enough accommodations so that highway travel will be feasible for the tourist, even if the facilities must later be supplemented. A single thought is proffered concerning patents of land for private undertakings of this nature, and that only with the intent to safeguard scenic values of the roadsides; such developments should not be allowed to encroach upon the recommended 600-foot right-of-way, or to violate scenic easements which have been suggested.

Control. Government-provided facilities must come under general control and supervision of some governmental agency. Lands upon which facilities will be created, and the facilities themselves, are recommended for retention in Federal ownership. With the partial exception of Mentasta Lake, in the last analysis, they will be necessary adjuncts to highway travel. Advantage sometimes accrues from unified administration of highways and facilities appurtenant thereto, although such procedure is not indispensable. It is recommended that the control and administration of such vacation and stop-over facilities as are provided on government lands along the highways of Alaska be vested in an appropriate governmental agency functioning in Alaska.

Operation. The governmental agency which be comes responsible for administration and general control of Mentasta Lake and the roadside stopping places will probably not carry on the actual operation of supplying food, lodgings, and necessary sundries to the traveling public. Activities of this sort are not generally considered as legitimate functions of government, and governmental agencies are usually debarred from conducting them.

Within the Territory, there is exception to the rule in that the Alaska R. R., an agency of the Federal government, has operated such facilities and furnished such services to the public at Mount McKinley National Park, an area administered by another Federal agency, the National Park Service. Perhaps the reason lies in several facts; that the railroad, contrary to usual procedure, is Federally owned and operated; that it carries no sleeping or dining cars; and that hotel facilities within the park and near the McKinley Park railroad station are well adapted to take the place of the missing rolling stock, while at the same time serving in their normal role of temporary resting place for park visitors.

So far as stopping places along the highways of Alaska are concerned, and regardless of the Mount McKinley situation, there seems no good reason for departure from usual and accepted practice. How is this problem handled ordinarily?

In many National Parks in the United States, the operation of facilities for the accommodation of visitors is by a concessioner, functioning under a contract with the government. Because of varying local conditions, no two agreements are exactly alike. In some cases government-owned structures are used by the concessioner, in others he builds and plans his own, subject to government approval. Franchise fees may take the form of a lump sum, a percentage of the gross income, a proportion of the net profit, or an amount computed from a sliding scale applied to such percentages or proportions. Under conditions of the contract, the concessioner is often required to furnish services for which no fee is recoverable from the visitor, but which are indispensable to his enjoyment for the period of his park visit. Rates charged by the concessioner for commodities and services are not variable at whim, but must receive governmental approval before being put into effect or altered.

If recourse is had to the type of operation which has been described, results will be more apt to be satisfactory if the recommended services along the roads are consolidated under a single management. Multiple relationships between administering and operating agencies will thus be avoided, financial stability and responsibility of the concessioner rendered more probable, and uniform, dependable service to the traveling public assured.

Review of the expected quantity and distribution of tourist visitation brings forth the conclusion that consolidated operation of extensive facilities so widely distributed will be a considerable task, not to be entered into hastily, or with limited financial backing. Corporate prosecution of the undertaking will have its obvious advantages.

To meet the special and unusual conditions which accompany operations in Alaska, a particular and uncommon course is advocated. It is recommended that interest be stimulated at once in formation of a quasi-public and limited profit corporation, in which to vest the operation of roadside tourist and vacation facilities after they have been completed.

The envisioned corporation would include among its officers and stockholders men of known weight and substance in the Territory. Its management would be Alaskan, its field of operation in Alaska, and resultant benefits would accrue to Alaska. No stigma of exploitation would mar the record of its activities.

The sole purpose of the corporation would be to operate vacation and tourist facilities on lands under Federal administration. It would participate in no other form of business. Successful operation of roadside facilities might well lead later to expansion of the field of corporate activities to include tourist accommodations which now exist or may later be provided in the National Parks and other Federally-administered areas of Alaska.

Figure 67.—Frontier cabin and cache.

In recognition of the public-service nature of the corporation, fees for franchises granted to it could well be established upon a reasonable basis. Full time executives and year-round and seasonal field employees would be paid at rates commensurate with those received for similar services in Alaska. Volume purchasing through a central office would act to reduce prices paid for supplies to a lower level than that available for lesser transactions.

It is in no wise the intent of this proposal that participation in the corporation should be an act of philanthropy on the part of the stockholder. Because of the limited element of risk involved, it is the intent of the proposal that dividends on stock be restricted to modest proportions, the rate to be defined in the articles of incorporation and to persist as a maximum through the existence of the corporation.

Profits beyond the stipulated dividend rate would be expended for improvement and expansion of plant, as required, and for the general benefit of areas upon which operated facilities are located. Use of the reserve profits would be under joint control of representatives of the administering and operating agencies. Extent to which the improvement reserve may accumulate should be specified.

The recommended procedure is designed to enlist within the corporation public spirited citizens of Alaska whose first concern is for its welfare. The organization would accomplish dual ends. It would increase the prosperity of Alaska and Alaskans, and at the same time augment the pleasure to be derived by those who have the good fortune to visit this land which has so much to offer.

online book Top

Last Modified: Mon, Sep 6 2004 10:00:00 pm PDT

National Park Service's ParkNet Home