This spring, crews will complete construction on a Katmai National Park and Preserve bridge designed to ease environmental impact while enhancing bear-viewing opportunities for Alaska visitors.
The new elevated boardwalk and bridge on the Brooks River occupies a similar footprint as park's previous infrastructure, but updates will mitigate congestion and improve safety for humans and animals alike.
"This is a great conservation story, and it's really what the park service does best," said Pete Christian, National Park Service spokesman for the Alaska region. "We're allowing for visitors to have a unique, once-in-a-lifetime wild experience with bears, while protecting the bears themselves."
In past seasons, trips across the bridge were sometimes delayed due to bears on the trail.
"Most visitors arrive here near a low float plane-docking area on the lake, and they typically follow their guide across a regular bridge. If there is a bear nearby, the protocol is to stop and wait for the bear," Christian said. "In the middle of the summer, a bear could just be napping or playing with cubs right near the path, and it would completely stop the flow of traffic in both directions -- for visitors, and for our park service maintenance personnel, rangers and guides. With this elevated bridge, people can go up and over the site while the bears engage in their natural activities."
Bridge and boardwalk construction began last October, after project managers transported materials to the Katmai gateway community of King Salmon.
"It's been quite a logistical undertaking," said Christian. "King Salmon is a remote village that's a couple hundred air miles away from Anchorage. The best way to get supplies and materials out there was to fly things to King Salmon and then barge them up Naknek Lake to Brooks Camp."
Contractors building the bridge are observing the same regulations as park visitors, pausing when bears and other sensitive wildlife roam within 50 yards of the work site.
As the project progresses, park officials and partners from Explore.org will also update the Katmai bear cam equipment that broadcasts seasonal wildlife activity along the Brooks River. Past-season highlights play during the winter and spring, and the cameras will again stream live footage from June through early October.
"There's not much going on until those early sockeye salmon runs on the Brooks River. Shortly thereafter, the bears show up and then the cameras stay popular through the peak of bear activity in July, and a second peak in September," said Christian.
The new bridge and boardwalk are scheduled to open in June. Details are at www.nps.gov/katm.