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New bathhouse opens at White Sulphur Springs

Posted: November 11, 2013 - 12:00am

SITKA — The White Sulphur Springs bathhouse is finished and ready for use.

“It looks great, it looks fabulous,” said Barth Hamberg, the U.S. Forest Service landscape architect who designed the building.

Just back from a three-day trip to the remote recreation site on West Chichagof Island, Hamberg said Friday that he and engineer Logan Wild were pleased with the final product.

That includes a timber-frame roof and trusses made of Tongass yellow and red cedar from Hoonah, sliding windows that open onto the bay and the preservation of old names and dates carved into the wood of the old bathhouse.

“This is a cultural artifact of this place,” Hamberg said of the carvings.

The White Sulphur Springs bathhouse and cabin are located 65 miles northwest of Sitka in the West Chichagof Wilderness Area. Commercial fishermen, Pelican residents and vacationers alike frequent the hot springs, accessible from a cove on the Chichgof shoreline.

The cabin was replaced in 2012. Construction of the bathhouse — a separate project — started in early spring this year, and was completed on Oct. 3.

The old bathhouse and cabin were built long before the area was designated Wilderness, which strictly limits allowed activities and structures. Following public comments from all over the U.S. in favor of demolishing the old bathhouse to allow the springs to return to their original state, the Forest Service originally decided to adopt that option.

But there was so much support from area residents favoring a bathhouse that would support the traditional use of the site that Tongass Supervisor Forrest Cole withdrew that decision and called instead for public comments on how the bathhouse should be rebuilt.

“People like Alice and Chuck Johnstone, John Murray and the people of Pelican were instrumental in pushing it through when it looked like it (construction of a new bathhouse) was at risk,” Hamberg said.

Hamberg said the crew working on the project tried to incorporate the public comments and suggestions into the new bathhouse, including the preservation of the graffiti that serves as something of a record of past visitors. That includes couples, families and boat names.

The bathhouse contractor actually finished the project earlier in October, but it was several weeks before Hamberg could sign off on it.

He was at the project site when he was furloughed by the federal government shutdown and a plane was sent to bring him back to Sitka.

“The contractors finished in my absence,” he said.

Hamberg said the project involved craftsmen from coastal Alaska communities, as well as the workers from Oregon Woods of Eugene, Ore. He said this gave the project a unique feel.

“It’s definitely the most special place I’ve had the honor to make a design for,” Hamberg said. “Everyone that worked on it picked up on it, and put 150 percent into it.”

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