Worries increase about saving Rika's Roadhouse

Posted: Sunday, October 21, 2001

DELTA JUNCTION (AP) -- In the early 1900s, weary travelers would pause at the log-hewn Rika's Roadhouse for a hot meal and break from the rigors of wilderness Alaska.

As the decades passed the Fairbanks-Valdez frontier trail became the Richardson Highway, and tour buses replaced Model-T Fords in the parking lot of the roadhouse outside of Delta Junction in the Interior.

But just how many more years the historic roadhouse will remain standing is now in doubt. State park officials say the Tanana River is creeping closer.

''We have to save Rika's,'' said Nan Scott-MacGregor, a Fairbanksan who serves on the Alaska State Parks Advisory Board. ''Every time the river floods it washes away part of the bank.''

Currently around 90 feet of ground remains between Rika's Roadhouse and the Tanana River.

But the Interior's August rains often bring high water that swallows some of that ground. A flood in 1997 simply washed away a 15-foot chunk of the bank in front of the roadhouse.

''As long as we don't have a massive flood we're fine, but the Tanana River has a mind of its own,'' said Jim Stratton, director of the Alaska Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation. ''You can see that the river is really chiseling away at that part of the bank.''

The nearby Ferryman's Cabin and the old telegraph station are in more immediate danger. The structures, along with the roadhouse, are part of the Big Delta State Historical Park. They are just 25 and 60 feet away from the Tanana River, respectively.

Up until just the last few weeks state parks officials thought that a solution was perhaps in hand. A 1998 engineering study came up with a plan to stabilize the streambank in front of the buildings. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has up to $1 million set to do the work, through its Emergency Streambank and Shoreline Protection Program.

The sticking point is that the corps of engineers first requires that 35 percent matching funds, from any source, be dedicated to the project.

The state parks division has tried in recent years to persuade the Legislature to foot that roughly $300,000 bill. But, citing the state's fiscal situation, the Legislature was unwilling to do so.

Stratton, the chief of Alaska's state parks, then turned to Alaska's congressional delegation for help. He worked with the office of Sen. Ted Stevens to find a program in an attempt to secure the money.

But that appropriation was not approved by Congress this fall, said Stratton. There was a concern cited about using federal funds to match other federal money, he said.

Parks officials report that the 10-acre Big Delta State Historical Park attracts an estimated 35,000 visitors each year. The roadhouse began to be a significant tourist attraction after the state acquired the property and began a renovation project in 1983.

Four years later the state chose Whitestone Farms to operate the roadhouse as a concession. Rika's now generates about $750,000 in local revenues each year, according to the state.

Some $3.5 million was spent by the state and Whitestone Farms to restore Rika's Roadhouse and provide other facilities at the historical park, according to the state parks division. It is the only publicly-owned roadhouse that still stands on its original site.

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