Last wooden ranger boat in Alaska to be unwrapped for Wrangell’s Fourth of July

A wooden boat in a shipyard, wrapped up
The wrapped-up Chugach outside Wrangell’s Nolan Center. (Photo by Sage Smiley/KSTK)

A boat on the national register of historic places will be on display in time for Wrangell’s Fourth of July celebrations.

For the last few years, Wrangell’s local government and museum have been working with the U.S. Forest Service to preserve the M/V Chugach, which is the last remaining wooden ranger boat in Alaska.

The 62-foot vessel was built in 1925 and spent decades patrolling the waters of what’s now known as the Tongass National Forest. It assisted federal officials with transportation, communication, record-keeping and search-and-rescue operations.

An old photo of a wooden patrol boat sailing along a forested coast
The M/V Chugach in the 1940s. (U.S. Forest Service photo)

Plans to build and develop a permanent display for the boat were put on the back burner by the COVID-19 pandemic. Wrangell District Ranger Clint Kolarich says that for now, the Chugach will be able to be viewed by residents but not boarded. Only contractors will be allowed on.

“It’s just much too difficult and quite dangerous, actually, to try to get folks up there,” Kolarich says. “But it’ll be neat to be able to see it completely unwrapped.”

Kolarich says that preliminary artists’ renderings of an interpretive exhibit for the Chugach are inspiring, but it’s a step of the process that hasn’t been funded yet. The Forest Service is looking for funding, but some of the burden also falls on the City and Borough of Wrangell, according to a Memorandum of Understanding between the agency and local government.

A black and white photo of a man standing next to a docked boat
A Forest Ranger stands with the M/V Chugach in the 1920s.
(U.S. Forest Service photo)

That means it could be a few years before the boat and accompanying exhibit are totally ready and open to visitors, Kolarich says.

“We’re talking about a permanent structure over [the boat], with wheelchair access and a viewing deck, and so it’s going to happen in phases over the next few years,” Kolarich says. “Unless someone listening wants to make a substantial donation to the City and Borough of Wrangell to preserve and showcase the last 100-year-old, all wood, Forest Service ranger boat.”

For now, Kolarich says the Chugach will be unwrapped and on display by June 26 at the latest and will remain unwrapped for at least a couple of weeks. People can see the Chugach next to former Alaska governor Frank Murkowski’s boat, on display outside the Nolan Center in downtown Wrangell.

KSTK - Wrangell

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