The Settlers Cove Recreation Site cabin has been upgraded to serve visitors of nearly all mobility levels, with new concrete ramps, a sturdy stairway to the beach and other adaptations.
Alaska State Parks Natural Resource Specialist II Aaron Ostby spearheaded the project with Southeast Alaska Independent Living Program Director Melissa O’Bryan as a consultant.
When considering grant proposals for local State Parks projects, Ostby described his motivation behind the cabin upgrades as he and O’Bryan gave a tour of the cabin site.
“One of the things that I’m trying to do is decrease barriers to outdoor recreation,” Ostby said. “This cabin seemed like a good place to start, because we were so close already, from an accessibility standpoint.”
He said he contacted O’Bryan and she brought out a couple of accessibility consultants to complete an initial assessment of the cabin and the grounds. As the project progressed, O’Bryan said, they had to overcome a setback that occurred when their local accessibility specialist had to move away from town. They adapted by sending photos to the specialist in Juneau as the project progressed.
Ostby said that the cabin will be as close to ADA accessibility standards as is possible when it is finished in July.
“It’s hard, when you’re dealing with outdoor facilities to make everything 100% ADA,” Ostby explained. “This isn’t, but we’re close — 99%, probably.”
O’Bryan said that if a facility isn’t 100% accessible according to ADA standards, it still can be recommended to people with disabilities.
“When we make recommendations, you think about where something starts and where it ends,” she said. “I mean, this is way better.”
Ostby pointed out the improvements that had been made during the project.
Most of the work was done in-house by Natural Resource Technician II Bill Stewart, Ostby said. Clark Concrete Construction installed the concrete ramps, Thomas Kroscavage of Wildfire Welding built the railing, and Kyle Burnette of Burnette’s Construction installed new gutters on the cabin.
Stewart installed a new wider door, switching the hinges to the opposite side to allow the door to swing farther, to allow wheelchair access. He also modified the table inside to provide easy access for a person sitting in a wheelchair.
Sturdy metal handholds were added in strategic spots inside the cabin as well.
On the outside of the cabin, there is a concrete ramp leading from the parking area to the wooden deck at the front, and another concrete ramp leading from the deck to the picnic table and fire ring area.
The grounds around the cabin have been leveled and brushed out for easier access.
The ground surrounding the edges of the concrete pad is planned to have gravel added to make the ground level with the pad to prevent tipping off the the edge. He said there was some decision-making involved in choosing that option over installing railings on those sides.
“Some of this stuff, honestly, is a compromise between different user groups. If you put in a railing in front of the cabin, for instance, it can cause other problems. If we put a railing here, the issue is that it limits access for other people. You’d have kids climbing on it — it’s not going to last long,” he explained. “Ideally, you’d want a railing with hand grabs on both sides, all the way around.”
O’Bryan commented that it was nice that even with all of the modifications that the view, as well as the cabin’s aesthetics, were preserved.
Gutters were installed to prevent rain from sheeting down onto the concrete entrance ramp and Stewart installed roof snow guards to prevent sudden snow drops and snow pileups at the entrance.
When the gutters were installed, drainage pipes had to be dug in to divert the water away from the cabin.
During the tour, Stewart worked on the metal-grate stairway leading to the beach from the parking area near the cabin.
Ostby said, pointing to the stairs, “This will be a huge improvement for kids and people with minor mobility issues, older people, to get to and from the beach. Before, it was kind of a goat trail.”
A wooden fence also has been erected at the top of the steep slope down the the beach alongside the stairs, as part of the new modifications.
The stairway project hit a bit of a hiccup, Ostby said, when Stewart began digging the area originally planned for that structure and found that there was a big hole straight down to the beach rather than solid ground.
Stewart explained, pointing to the concrete base supporting the stairway landing.
“We’d already poured that form and Aaron had already ordered the material for this plan, so we had to get creative and come up with a good use of material and still use that concrete pad that was already poured.”
He said that they were able to complete the new design with the materials they already had, and it turned out the stairs ended up in a better location in the end.
“It was a happy accident,” Stewart said, grinning.
Stewart said he works at that job six months out of the year, and it never gets old.
“I love doing this work,” he said. “It’s not even like a job.”
He described himself as a “starving artist in the wintertime,” and said his artwork is shown at Scanlon’s Gallery downtown and is featured in a large painting on the sixth floor of the PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center.
Ostby said that the biggest challenge they faced during the project wasn’t construction-related, but was working around the cabin’s reservation schedule.
“The cabin is booked, on average, 260 days a year,” he said. “It’s the fourth most used public-use cabin in the state cabin system, which is amazing for a community this small.
Ostby said some people have expressed concerns about sanitization of the cabin during the pandemic.
At the tour’s start, the park hosts were cleaning the cabin, which Ostby said they always do. Guests are asked to complete actual sanitization themselves, and guidelines are posted at the cabin.
People will book six months in advance, Ostby said, just so they can get a summer reservation at the cabin, and demand increased during the shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“People were just looking for something to do, and unlike park systems in the Lower 48 that totally closed down, the State of Alaska made a different choice,” he said. “Personally, I think that was a good choice, because obviously there’s a lot of mental health benefits for people to be out and about, and fortunately we have the space here to do it — to be socially distanced.”
“Most of the big stuff happened in the fall and winter,” Ostby said of the cabin’s new modifications, “because right now, the cabin’s booked into September,” he added.
O’Bryan said her family camps at the cabin a couple of times yearly, pointing out that the cabin is the only one on the road system, making it especially valuable.
People interested in staying at the cabin can make a reservation at reserveamerica.com, Ostby said.