New trail and viewing platform proposed in Katmai National Park & Preserve

The Katmai National Park and Preserve wants to build a new viewing platform on the Research Bay Overlook Trail.

Proposed project site in Katmai National Park & Preserve. (Image credit National Park Service)

During the summer, a Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes bus tour runs daily. It offers visitors views of the valley formed by the Novarupta volcanic eruption in 1912, the largest volcanic eruption in the 20th century. Along the way, visitors can disembark to enjoy scenic views near the road.

One key stop along the way overlooks the valley, Naknek Lake and islands in Research Bay.

“Over the last 10 or 20 years, the visitors have just been developing what we call a ‘social trail,’” explained Brian Smith, the park’s environmental protection specialist. “There is no improvement to the area. So they just get off the bus, and they walk into the forest a little ways into a clearing. And repeatedly, over time, that has kind of compacted the soils down and created a social trail out to the viewing spot. And the social trail kind of terminates at a really steep drop off.”

Katmai has identified several problems with the current set up. Because no formal trail exists, the overlook is not accessible to people with limited mobility. The “social trails” also speed erosion in the area and pose a risk to visitors.

“We haven’t had any injuries out there,” said Smith. “But there is a risk [of] injuries because of the tree roots and the rutting of the trail and unimproved nature of the surface. And what we’re looking at—this project is kind of like a mitigating factor to hopefully prevent those kind of injuries, slips, trips and falls, from hopefully happening in the future.”

The park proposes to build a 150-foot long trail to a 12 by 20-foot viewing platform. The public comment period for the project’s Draft Environmental Assessment is open until Feb. 18.

If the project is approved, Katmai plans to begin construction in August and anticipates the project will take about 20 days. It plans to contract with the Student Conservation Association, a nonprofit that aims to connect youth with public lands, for the installation of the trail and platform.

Comments on the project can be submitted online, by mail or in person at Katmai’s visitor center in King Salmon.