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Dan Moller cabin to be torn down, replaced

New construction on popular backcountry hut to start next year

Posted: Monday, August 17, 2009

The U.S. Forest Service will tear down and replace the Dan Moller cabin on Douglas Island next summer.

Jill Homer / Juneau Empire
Jill Homer / Juneau Empire

Built in 1936 with local logs by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the 16-foot-by-18-foot cabin is one of Juneau's best loved and most used backcountry shelters, and has been for decades.

But the logs have rotted to the point the cabin needs to be rebuilt, said Ed Grossman, recreation program manager for the Juneau Ranger District.

The agency approved the work in June and construction on the cabin, located three miles up the Dan Moller Trail, is scheduled for next summer.

The cabin was built with vertical logs that make it difficult to replace when they rot. Heavy snows pile up against the walls in the winter, keeping the logs wet and pushing them off level.

The structural integrity of the entire building came into question last year, when the agency said that if it couldn't be replaced, it would have to be closed.

The agency listed the project as high-priority, meaning it went to the top of the list.

The new cabin will be built on the same footprint but will be a bit more spacious because of a higher roof that will provide about 4 feet of additional head room in the loft.

"Everything about this cabin has been designed to better deal with significant snow loads," Grossman said, including changing its orientation to prevent so much snow build-up. "In the past we've had to go clear off snow from the structures out there to help reduce the chance of them falling."

The front porch will be extended to leave a bigger space to enter the cabin, the eaves will be wider to protect the walls from moisture, and a steeper roof will better shed snow.

The new cabin will have better natural light so it feels "less cave-like," Grossman said. There will be a set of stairs to the loft, instead of a ladder, and the cabin will be ADA-accessible.

It will sleep 12 people in bunks and more in an upper loft.

The cabin was the original playground of the Juneau Ski Club, whose members called it the Third cabin, past president Dean Williams said.

Up until Eaglecrest Ski Area was built, the group used the cabin as a warming hut.

It's still used by cross-country skiers and snowmachiners, although the downhill skiers have mostly moved on to the ski area's convenient lifts, paved and plowed access road and parking lot.

Williams, 91, said overnight stays are one thing he misses about skiing at Eaglecrest.

"At the Third cabin, we could go up on Friday night, sometimes in the dark" to spend the weekend skiing the surrounding bowls, Williams said. "We used to have some great parties up there, as you can well imagine."

They would use a snowcat to haul 20 to 25 people and all their gear up the trail and into the bowl.

"It was nice in the daytime to run in and get warm if you started getting cold up there skiing," he said.

Nights at the cabin could be the best part, Williams said.

"The prettiest thing I was ever introduced to up there was the Northern Lights," he said. "They were so bright in that bowl you could read a newspaper by the lights."

The cabin was fixed up several times since the Forest Service acquired it in 1983. At that time, volunteers replaced rotted log sections and put in a new roof, floor and windows. The cabin got a porch in 1990 and a concrete foundation, floor and other fixes in 1999.

Only 10 years later, the rot is a problem again, Grossman said, and questions about structural integrity could close it this winter.

The agency will assess it in a few months and make a decision, but Grossman anticipated that it could make it through one more winter season.

The cabin is popular on the agency's rental list: There were 124 rental nights in 2007 and 156 in 2008.

• Contact reporter Kim Marquis at 523-2279 or kim.marquis@juneauempire.com.



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