A crowd starts to gather on a morning earlier this month at the Chilkoot River. (Jillian Rogers)

A crowd gathers on a September morning along the Chilkoot River. (Jillian Rogers)

The Alaska Department of Natural Resources is installing gates at Haines’ most popular bear viewing area: the Chilkoot River Corridor. It’s the first step in the effort to improve the road. While the work is happening this week, vehicle access is limited. But State Parks staff say locals shouldn’t worry about the gates restricting access to the recreation area in the future.

Southeast State Parks Superintendent Mike Eberhardt says the two gates being installed the Chilkoot Corridor are a precautionary measure. Early this year, the Department of Transportation transferred management of the road to DNR.

“Because the management has changed to a State Parks road, we have a greater obligation to public safety,” Eberhardt said.

He says DNR needs to have the ability to close the road in case of a safety hazard, whether it’s a traffic accident, extreme weather event or dangerous wildlife situation. He doesn’t anticipate the gate being used for anything except emergencies.

Haines Park Ranger Travis Russell agrees.

“I foresee [closures happening] only during peak tourist season times if there’s a bear incident,” Russell said. “But because there’s a campground at the end of that, closing a gate really impedes peoples’ access. So I think keeping that in mind, access will still be open to the public. There’s really no reason to close it other than a major emergency.”

Safety has long been a concern on the Chilkoot River. During the summer, bears, fishermen, tourists and photographers converge in close range. One reason for the transfer to DNR was to pave the way for a road improvement project to help bolster safety. The bulk of the road work isn’t expected until next year. But for now, Eberhardt says DNR has the responsibility to put this one emergency safety measure in place.

According to bid documents on the DNR website, the work taking place this week includes installation of two gates, four traffic posts, and a sign.

Over the next few days while construction is happening, access to Chilkoot is limited. People on foot are still able to enter the area, but vehicle access is restricted. Russell says the work is expected wrap up Friday.