State and Army officials have agreed on a procedure that will allow hunters to use the new Tanana River bridge in Salcha to get to military lands on the other side of the river. The agencies established the process in time for hunters to get access to military training areas in September.
The brand new $187 million bridge across the Tanana River at Salcha was built to enable military personnel and equipment to get to the Tanana Flats Training Area. But Army officials say they’ve got a lot of road-building to do there before they’ll be using the bridge to move many soldiers and materiel.
Shawn Osborn with the Fort Wainwright environmental office says that’s because once you get across the bridge, there’s not really any way to get around much from there.
“It’s just all swamp back there,” Osborn said.
Army officials have been saying for months that they don’t yet have funding to build roads or any other sort of infrastructure at the far end of the bridge. But because the Army will be opening Tanana Flats and other training ranges to hunters on Sept. 1, state and military officials have been trying to work out a way for hunters use the bridge and access lands on the other side.
But Osborn says hunters may want to think twice about going over there, because it’s going to be hard to get around. And they may not build new trails.
“People are going to try to, I would assume, try to cut trails. And you’re not supposed to do that, according to Army policy,” he said.
That’s just one of many restrictions that the Army and state have established while developing a plan to allow the public to use a bridge that was mainly funded by the Pentagon, but for which the state kicked in about $82 million.
Hunters will have to fill out and submit at least two forms – an Alaska Railroad application to cross the bridge, and one from Fort Wainwright to access the training range.
Osborn says those forms also are available at both Fort Wainwright and Greely.
“You need a recreation access permit, or RAP permit,” he said. “And to obtain those, you can go to our website. Or you can go to one of the three kiosks we have located at the Fort Wainwright Visitors Center, or Fort Greely Visitors Center, or on Fort Wainwright at the Natural Resource Office, Building 3023.”
Also, only ATVs will be allowed to cross the bridge and enter the training range. No pickups, trailers or campers.
And hunters will have to check in with security guards that will be posted at the entrance to the bridge.
Initial plans called for Alaska National Guard members to stand sentry. But Kalei Rupp, a spokeswoman with the state Department of Veterans and Military Affairs, says state officials now plan to just contract a private security outfit.
“What that security is going to look like has yet to be fleshed out,” she said. “But it will not be Alaska National Guard members. It will be a private entity providing that security detail.”
Editor's note: Fort Wainwright has just posted maps of the hunting areas within training ranges and other resources, such as cabins in those areas.