There was a lot to celebrate on the USS Ranger’s 53rd birthday.
Known as the “Top Gun of the Pacific Fleet,” the aircraft carrier has been the focus of a nearly decade-long effort, with the ultimate goal being to bring it from Bremerton, Wash., to the Portland-metro/Vancouver area so that the vessel could be used as a museum, tourist attraction, educational center, emergency preparedness center and military memorial.
Earlier this month, as part of the vessel’s birthday celebration, it was announced that the USS Ranger Foundation had selected Chinook Landing Marine Park in Fairview, Ore., on the Columbia River as the future home of the retired supercarrier.
“The USS Ranger Foundation is looking forward to partnering with other local tourist attractions to attract larger groups adding much needed tourists’ dollars to the economy,” said retired U.S. Navy Capt. Peter Ogle, foundation president and CEO.
Ray Kutch, a Washougal resident and current member of the USS Ranger Foundation board of directors and executive committee, said the road to get the project this far has been paved with challenges, but the effort has been worthwhile.
“We went from having a marketing plan on a cocktail napkin to developing a 110-page plan to present to public officials and show them what we could do and make it work for them,” Kutch said. “It’s been a long, difficult process, but a labor of love. We feel good about it.”
Once the Naval application process, including an environmental study, is completed the vessel is released, the USS Ranger will be towed to local waters.
According to Kutch, approximately $10 million in work is needed to prepare for opening, including new HVAC, electrical, paint, retrofitting for Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, mooring support and pier and dock facilities, parking areas, onboard cafes and restaurants, a ship store, and design and implementation of the educational components, and the design of the military memorial.
“Some huge undertakings remain,” Kutch said. “But the most difficult thing about this entire process had been finding a suitable site.”
Once donation of the USS Ranger is officially approved, the Navy donates the ship free of charge. However, the organization receiving the vessel is responsible for costs associated with transporting and preparing the ship — a price tag that could amount to $30 million. This amount includes a requirement by the Navy that the receiving organization have enough funding to cover the vessel’s first five years of operation as a museum
The funding for every aspect of the project, from transport costs and renovations to ongoing operations, will be generated through private contributions. No public tax dollars will be used.
“There are five existing carrier museums spread out around the country. None of them rely on tax dollars to operate,” Ogle said. “The Pacific Northwest would be well-served by Ranger and will be a great addition to the community.”
Kutch said Fairview officials have been supportive and welcoming.
“They have been so eager for the ship,” he said. “We are excited about the prospects at this point.”
As an aircraft carrier museum, the Ranger has the potential to draw up to 350,000 to 400,000 visitors a year, which would infuse money into the local economy as well as create the need for a variety of jobs ranging from people to do ship refurbishment and infrastructure improvements prior to the opening, to individuals to serve as tour guides, maintenance workers and museum administrators after the facility is up and running.
Kutch said having the USS Ranger sited in Fairview will be an asset to Camas-Washougal residents, who will be able to travel by boat to visit the supercarrier. He said he envisions water taxis someday taking visitors from one side of the Columbia River to the other.
“It is a huge asset to the community,” Kutch said. “People from Camas-Washougal will go there in their boats. It will give people another venue to travel to.”
Built in Newport News, Va., the USS Ranger CV-61 was first commissioned in August 1957. It is 1,071 feet long, weighs 88,000 tons, and extends 271 feet at its widest point. In its day, it could hold a crew of 5,600.
During the carrier’s lifetime the Navy used the Ranger extensively, including deployment during the Vietnam War where it earned 13 battle stars. In addition, it served during Operation Desert Storm where it dropped 4 million pounds of ordnance, destroyed more than 100 Iraqi boats, shot down one helicopter and destroyed numerous tanks, armored personnel carriers and bridges.
In July 1993, the Ranger was decommissioned and sent to the Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility in Bremerton, Wash.
The Foundation is a non-profit organization established in 2001 for the purpose of acquiring, preserving and operating the retired aircraft carrier.
According to Ogle, there is still a great amount of work to be done — not the least of which is fundraising.
“Now is the time to support the USS Ranger Foundation and help bring Ranger to the Portland region.”