Settlers Cove State Recreation Site has some new features to offer, thanks to a state grant and the hard work of Alaska Conservation Corps crewman Brieshan Kenoyer and Alaska State Parks Natural Resource Specialist Aaron Ostby.
Giving a tour of Settlers Cove campground on a misty afternoon this past week, with the laughs and happy shouts of Ketchikan Indian Community Culture Camp kids in the background, Kenoyer and Ostby showed off the results of their work.
The first of the projects funded by the recreational trails program grant, Ostby said, was to rehabilitate the trails within the Settlers Cove campground. Ostby said that there were specific goals in mind when he applied for the grant.
“What do the facilities need?” he said he considered, adding that “one of the main things, is whatever improvements we do, we want them to be sustainable.”
The trails connecting campsites to each other and to the restrooms have been restored and improved.
“They were in pretty bad shape,” Ostby said. “One of the bridges was out because a tree fell over it.”
Kenoyer rebuilt those trails with edging made of small hemlock trees that needed to be thinned from the campground, and filled the trails with fresh gravel. She also built a fresh trail where a natural path had been created by campers.
The second stage of the projects was to build a tent platform in one of the campsites.
“As soon as we got this finished, it was the most popular campsite,” Ostby said.
A large, damp tent squatted across the bright new platform that afternoon.
“Anything that gets you on level ground, up off the ground, is helpful,” Ostby added.
When Kenoyer joined the tour, she explained that the job offered the first experience she’d had in building trails or constructing campsites.
“I’d used a weed wacker a few times — a lawnmower — that was about it,” she said. She said she’d gotten “lucky” with the timeline of the grant project, in that it allowed her to start learning on the more simple trail improvements first, before moving onto the more complex stages of the project.
Kenoyer explained that she’d been living in the Lower 48 for several years, working in other jobs, and more recently, on earning a nursing degree. She recently returned to Ketchikan to care for her grandmother.
“I had been in the restaurant industry for a really long time, and I thought ‘My God, I just want to work in the woods,’” she said.
She added that she worried she had glamorized the idea of working in the outdoors.
“I totally didn’t. It’s probably my favorite job I’ve ever had,” she said, grinning.
The next stop on the tour was the new walk-in tent camping site, located below the upper parking lot.
Ostby said that site was just what he’d been looking for: one that was easily accessible by car for families with young children. The site is offered for use on a first-come, first-served basis, he said. There also will be a post in the campsite’s designated parking spot, as in all of the other campsites, on which campers can clip their reservation slip.
A short, easy walk from the parking area, and down a few stairs, the large tent platform offers a spectacular view across the Tongass Narrows toward Gravina Island. The scent of loamy earth, seawater and cedars permeates the area.
The site was a challenge to transform into the new camping area, Ostby and Kenoyer said, as it was clogged with old, rotting trees that had been cut down and left years ago.
Kenoyer said the site was less than charming when she started work on it.
“It was so dark, it would be a really bright, hot sunny day and you’d come down here and it would be dark and quiet and you didn’t even know it was daylight outside almost,” she said.
Kenoyer said her first task was to cut down trees that were blocking the trail to the site.
“I was like, “Wow, this is really hard. This is probably going to be the hardest thing I’ll do!’” she laughed, and added, “and that was probably the easiest thing I did.”
She said she eventually developed a system for the work and got more used to it, building technical skills and efficient ways to move things around and to dig.
She and Ostby also dragged out the old logs and stumps with cable and pulleys attached to a truck that Ostby drove, pulling from the parking lot.
Ostby planned the site with a long-range vision in place.
“If we’re going to do a site like this,” he said he determined in the planning stages, “let’s do it in a spot that where we can eventually develop it into a cabin.”
Ostby and Kenoyer pointed out the features of the tent platform that will support a cabin they hope will be built there in the future if funding comes through.
Under the broad plywood platform, there are concrete pads with a post-and-beam understructure to support a cabin.
Kenoyer explained, “We had to dig about three or four feet before we got to rock, so those holes are probably three or four feet across too.”
She said she hand-dug the holes for the posts with a shovel, frequently utilizing a reciprocating saw to slice through dense roots. As she dug, she also had to contend with water that would fill the holes as she worked, forcing her to bail or pump the water out.
When she’d finished a hole, she would build up the bottom with gravel, tamp it level then fill a wooden form she’d created with concrete before inserting the posts. She hauled gravel from the beach in buckets to fill the voids around the forms.
Kenoyer said she could dig a hole and a half per day.
“I was an expert hole digger by that point,” she said, chuckling.
She also became an expert gravel-hauler, breaking a couple of hand wheelbarrows during heavy use as she moved gravel during the project, in-between using a power wagon when she could.
Kenoyer built the decking with the help of Ostby.
“There’s so many different ways to kind of square things off and level it out,” Kenoyer said. “That was really interesting because I’d never really done anything like that at all.”
Kenoyer also worked to improve a picnic area below the tent platform, accessed by a new short flight of stairs. She also built a stairway to the beach from the picnic site with treated wood rounds and gravel.
“This was probably the hardest thing I did,” Kenoyer said, pointing to the stairway with the rounds.
After connecting a longer round to a pair of shorter rounds, she had to then pound rebar through the rounds into the ground below to create the stairway — whether there was soil, wood or rock under the path.
“If it’s going into rock, you just have to keep slamming it, and it’ll get hot and start bending,” she said. “Then, if you’re going into a tree, then the whole log that I’m pounding in will raise out of the ground — even if it’s a really huge log — it’ll raise up out of the ground. You just have to keep hitting the rebar with a sledgehammer until it goes in.”
Kenoyer and Ostby are already ready to jump into a new grant-funded project that will offer improvements to the existing cabin at the Settlers Cove campground.
Near the cabin’s parking spot, an ADA-compliant concrete ramp will be built to improve cabin access. The cabin’s door also will be widened, Ostby said, and handrails placed strategically inside the cabin to aid campers.
Ostby explained that he wanted to make improvements that would make the cabin “as close to ADA standards as possible — since it’s drive-up already, it made sense.”
On the far side of the cabin, a second concrete ramp is slated to be added, to make access to the fire ring easier, and the area near the fire ring that slopes down to the beach will be filled in to make a more stable, safe area.
The beach access path also is in the works for improvement, with two concrete landings planned and sturdy railings on a new set of wooden stairs to be added. The work could start immediately, Ostby said, as the grant is in place, but staff will have to work around the busy reservation schedule for the cabin. He is hoping work can start in September. He added that they have a year and a half to complete the work.
Kenoyer said she will be working on the new projects, but first, she will be jumping back into nursing school next month.
Other projects planned for the Settlers Cove Recreation Site area are interpretive signing, railings and trail improvements on the Lunch Creek Loop trail, as well as paving for the parking lot.
Ostby said another project on his list is signage for nearby area state marine parks.
Kenoyer said that people interested in working in the Alaska State Parks can find jobs posted at the Alaska Department of Natural Resources website.
“I think that people don’t realize that you can just get them if you want them, and it’s a really awesome job,” she said.