Park staff in King Salmon have been reading blog posts and receiving comments from the public that are heartfelt and sincere in their concern for the welfare of brown bears and other wildlife during the upcoming Brooks River bridge and boardwalk construction project. As the superintendent of Katmai National Park and Preserve, I’d like to address some of these concerns.
First, please allow me a few lines to introduce myself. My name is Mark Sturm, and I consider it an honor and a privilege to have this opportunity to work in such a remarkable place as Katmai. This is a dream job for a guy like me. I am a career National Park Service employee with a long background in wildlife ecology and management. Here at Katmai, I am excited to work alongside many other dedicated and knowledgeable wildlife enthusiasts, and in particular with bear lovers. Like so many of you, before coming here, I had already developed a strong affinity for Katmai’s bears; I want you to know that the park takes the bears’ continued wellbeing seriously, especially as it relates to the upcoming bridge construction project.
Brooks Falls is arguably the premier bear-viewing destination in the world. The buildings at Brooks Camp, about a mile away, are on the other side of the river from the trails and viewing platforms. Currently, a floating bridge is installed every spring and removed every fall to allow visitors and park staff to cross safely. The existing floating bridge is past its life expectancy and frequently requires repairs due to damage by bears, storms, and river current.
The very presence of the floating bridge, lying as it does right at the water surface, changes fish and bear behavior. Salmon swimming upstream to spawn often hesitate to pass beneath the floating bridge. Later in the year, spawned-out fish wash downstream, and dead and dying fish get trapped alongside the bridge. This stinky bounty, that wouldn’t be present naturally at that particular spot, attracts hungry bears. The floating bridge noticeably impacts the natural movements and behavior of salmon and bears.
The solution is to replace the floating bridge with a permanent structure. It needs to be elevated well above the river and surrounding area to allow bears and fish to move freely underneath, while also helping to provide a safer, more efficient and enjoyable visitor experience. This is particularly important because, under the current configuration, the NPS currently struggles to effectively meet existing visitation needs at Brooks Falls. Additionally, the permanent bridge will provide new conduits for the safe transfer of sewage and electricity across the Brooks River—much-needed improvements to park operations.
Some comments we’ve received raise concerns about the staging of materials for the project, which is for late summer and early fall, due to the perceived potential for such activities to affect bears trying to utilize Brooks Falls area in the late season. We understand and share these concerns about the well-being of Katmai’s bears and can assure you that construction activities at the Brooks River site will begin only after the bears have left the area for the season.
This kind of construction project would be a challenging undertaking anywhere, but it is especially so here in such a remote and seasonally accessible location. Pulling it off will require the coordination of many moving parts. In order to support construction activities, materials and equipment will need to be staged in various locations remote from the actual construction site beginning in late summer, only to be brought onto the construction site itself next fall, after the bears are gone. Project staging will take place only in locations not frequented by bears, and will be the only project activity in late summer 2017.
Actual construction activities on the bridge will take place next year. In a cost-saving move, the NPS has decided to combine the two phases of the project into a single construction period. Funding has already been appropriated to build Phase I, about two-thirds of the total project, including the bridge and the approach boardwalk on the north side of Brooks River (the lodge side). Fiscal year 2018 funding will support Phase II, the south side approach boardwalk.
The selected bridge construction contractor, STG Incorporated, a subsidiary of the Calista Corporation, has experience in similar remote construction work, having built facilities at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center at Portage and an elevated boardwalk at Tuntutuliak in Southwest Alaska. In the case of Katmai’s planned bridge project, to protect the bears, construction activities at the Brooks River site will only occur after bear activity has ceased, with heavy construction occurring in winter and early spring when the bears are hibernating.
Ultimately, this bridge and boardwalk construction project will help make the Brooks Camp area more manageable by addressing visitation issues the park already experiences and creating needed space for the improved movements of bears, fish, and other wildlife. Accordingly, this project will help assure the long-term protection of bears and the Brooks Falls environment while also providing for a safer and more enjoyable visitor experience. In summary, the elevated bridge and walkway project at Brooks Camp is a well-planned project that moves the Brooks Camp area in a good direction that will at once help to protect bears from people … and people from bears.
January 30, 2019 at 09:57
This was really a great post to remember. love the topic
September 30, 2018 at 10:13
I recently made my second trip to Brooks Camp and was dismayed to see the sharp increase in day visitors. It seems the bear cams have attracted the interest of many foreign visitors. The language barrier was a big problem and they did not follow the rules and chased the bears with their long photo lens cameras. They would not get off the trails to let the bears pass but instead stopped and talked rapidly in excited voices. The bears were visibly agitated but these people seemed not to notice or care. I hope the new elevated bridge is not to accommodate more day visitors as I fear a tragedy is going to occur that will ruin it for everyone to enjoy these majestic bears. I spoke to a ranger about the rudeness of these visitors and he was fed up with them too because they constantly broke the rules about no tripods on the platforms. As soon as he left, they would put the tripods back up, taking up room so other people could not see as well as pushed and shoved their way to the front. The tour companies that bring these visitors over should be made to stay with them and be sure they understand the rules.
August 15, 2018 at 05:36
Thank you so very much Carlton Vaughn for the truth. I do not like "red herring." I do not like dishonesty. There will be a high price to pay for that. Its not nice to fool Mother Nature. Thank you Bob for your insight, experience and post.
April 09, 2018 at 12:23
We are visiting for the first time the end of June 2018 and want to know if there is any recommendations you can give us. Thank you so much!
March 15, 2018 at 10:48
shared info is very helpful. Boom Lift...
Carlton Imes Vaughn
March 15, 2018 at 06:33
I was a biological technician (bears) at Brooks Camp for 11 seasons including during the planning phase of the elevated bridge. I can assure all concerned that the main reason for the elevated bridge is to increase ease of operations and to facilitate increased visitation. To try to mask this unfortunate decision as in some way to protect the bears or visitors is just a red herring. It is intuitively obvious that the increased visitation will impact the bears and the visitor experience. It is also in direct contridiction to the Brooks Camp Developmental Concept Plan (DCP). Under the DCP there is suppose to be a cap on the number of visitors but has never been implimited because of pressures from economic interests. To try to justify this unfortunate decision as to improve visitor's experience due to bear jams is dishonest. The Park Service's own survey of visitors indicated that 97% of replys indicated that bear jams either enhanced their experience or they did not experience bear jams. Also as far as it improving visitor safety you only have to look at the safety record at Brooks Camp to realize this is not an issue under the previous management. I could and will give more logical reasoning as to why the elevated bridge is an unfortunate and unnecessary expensive project that will Impact the bears and visitor experience.
January 20, 2018 at 11:03
I see there were a few people asking the question regarding the completion of the construction. Can you please email me those dates. I was planning a photo exploration trip there Sept 2018. How can i find out the possible completion dates? If you can email me- I would be most appreciative. imageave at cox dot net James
December 23, 2017 at 01:25
Will the visitor areas/viewing platforms at the Brooks River be available for tourists in mid-July 2018?
August 30, 2017 at 12:06
I am deeply interested in the proposed work at Katmai River.I have read carefully,all the information available. The welfare of the bears is paramount and it does seem that this is being fully addressed in thr plans. I live in England with no hope of ever visiting Katmail but an deeply interested in all that occurs here.
August 14, 2017 at 07:37
I have just recently, this past June, started to watch the Brooks Falls bear cam. As I have fallen in love with the bears, i have started to explore more sites and information on the bears and the area in hopes of a future trip. I fully understand the concern for the wildlife and environment, but I also can see the need for this new bridge and while it is something that has to be done, why not improve it? I don't think it's something that is going to draw insane amounts of people, but it will make a better experience for the people that do go there, as well as the wildlife that live there. In my readings so far, I have come across posts that speak of the bears that will not go under the bridge. To me that is a larger impact on the wildlife than an elevated bridge would. Also, i think having the people further away from the bears will prove safer for the people and the animals. I cannot speak to the post about the amount of planes and the tours in wading pants, but I do believe an elevated bridge will allow the river to flow more naturally, allowing the bears and fish to go along as nature had intended them to, while allowing the tourists the opportunity to see the area and wildlife from a safe distance. I may be wrong, perhaps there is more construction planned than just the bridge, but one bridge is not going to ruin the beauty of the area or impede the views too much. The bridge may become permanent, but you just have to move the camera a little to capture the beauty without the bridge! This is my two cents. I apologize if anyone takes offense, but I think they have done an amazing job at keeping things pretty natural here whilst allowing for modernization such as the bear cams! Carol
August 11, 2017 at 01:00
I was wondering the same thing as Ria. Will the construction be complete if I planned a trip in the summer of 2019?
July 19, 2017 at 09:09
I have worked in Katmai National Park for several seasons as a wildlife guide,at Brooks Falls and on Kukak Bay on Shelikof Strait,and camped in the campground.Over the years I noticed a decline in the number of bears with an increase in the number of visitors.The number of planes coming to Brooks must have some impact on bear activity.Katmai may be in danger of being loved to death.By removing the floating bridge,and leaving the lodge,cabins,store and campground where they are seems to me catering to the tourists and tour operators and not to the welfare of the bears and other wildlife that use the river.Making it easier for more visitors seems counter productive.The bears have the right away as I have been told so many times at the park.As much as I dislike the idea,it may be time for a lottery system for Brooks,not to mention more oversight of bear watching guides in the river.I have seen guides in the river encroaching on bears to get better photos. If anything,the plans for Brooks should be focusing more on creating a return to more natural conditions not accommodating the tour operators. The original plan as I understood it was to move the facilities over the river and remove the bridge.But it seems that the plan was changed with no impact studies or opportunities for public input.Brooks needs a better master plan than the removal of the bridge.With rough conditions on the lake,severe weather for planes,and bridge closures,Brooks has always had problems for day visitors.As a boat driver on the lake,I always took bridge closures and rough water on the lake as a given.
July 19, 2017 at 04:29
As a regular visitor to Brooks Camp,camping for about a week every two years since 2000 (my last visit was exactly a year ago,for one week),I have heard and known about the bridge project for quite a long time now and I feel the same concerns that other people have expressed as it is going to happen in such a unique and extraordinary place.I even wrote a letter to the superintendant after my visit last year, to express my concerns about the number of planes coming in every day,at all times of day, and some new bear watching practices, in waders along the river,that troubled me deeply,as they could only disturb the bear habits since they patrol this river permanently and must feel crowded by this,on top of the fishermen who were already there before. When I first came to Brooks in 2000,there was no electric fence around the campground and no elevated platform to reach the falls.Those have been installed and don't seem to have impacted the bears or the scenery,the elevated platform being entirely in the forest that leads to the falls. However,I am a lot more concerned by an elevated platform and bridge in the lower part of the river.Not only do I fear for the change that is going to affect and impact the bears,but I fear greatly for the impact on the scenery itself in this specific part of the river.The views towards Dumpling mountain or Margo creek are unobstructed and pristine,the light,the sunsets,sunrises,and rainbows on stormy days are always magic there and I am seriously afraid that an elevated platform and bridge will spoil and ruin them forever.The little floating bridge may be old and obsolete,but it was extremely discreet and quite invisible in the scenery,then it was dismantled and disappeared altogether,leaving an intact landscape.This whole part of Brooks will never be the same after the new construction,however well done and thought it maybe.We will only have numerous photos to look at, to try and remember how beautiful and special it all was.Trying to accomodate people's needs is often to the detriment of nature.That's how I feel very strongly about this project and it makes me feel very sad. Brooks has always been my favourite place on earth and it will never be the same again.
July 16, 2017 at 05:52
When will the construction be completed? Will it be ready for the 2018 season (June 1)?
July 13, 2017 at 10:29
Well said! THAT is a TERRIFIC explanation of what, why and how the bridge improvements will be made. Thank you :)
July 09, 2017 at 07:03
Thank you for the detailed explanation, it seems like you have thought this through and I think it will be a great improvement to the park.
July 08, 2017 at 12:29
Hope all goes well. Thank you for addressing these concerns.
July 08, 2017 at 07:05
Dear Superintendent Strum, Thank you for taking the time to write and address the many concerns those of us who watch the Bear Cams at Katmai have written about. It was kind and thoughtful of you to carefully explain the plans and details of this new construction. It is my sincere hope that this new bridge will correct the concerns you have addressed in your write-up and more importantly not affect the bears in any negative way. We all know, "The best laid plans...." It does appear to me that you are at least focused and aware of the priorities of ensuring the safety and well-being of the bears of Katmai. Thank You.
July 08, 2017 at 07:03
Thank you Mark Sturm for a very comprehensive and easy to understand explanation of the upcoming Katmi bridge project.