This is our second year campground hosting at Cooper Creek campground on the Kenai River. I have been calling us ‘sophomores’ or ‘wise fools’. Freshman year we learned the ropes of running our ‘own’ campground, sophomore year we are learning there are always new things to learn and experience with regard to campers and their shenanigans.
Last year our biggest problem was guests filleting salmon on the old wooden picnic tables, leaving their coolers full of salmon or just plain salmon problems. It also meant that people were catching a lot of fish and we were blessed by so many campers with salmon that I rarely ate anything else. Wild-caught fresh salmon (20 minutes or so old) is as fresh as it can get. Several people this year have also blessed us with fresh halibut.
Why is salmon such a problem? Because we are in BEAR country: black bears, grizzly bears, and baby bears of both kinds. Though what makes you stronger may not kill you, a BEAR will kill you. Last weekend I had a guest who had been attacked by a grizzly three years ago. She had been hiking along the Skilak Lake lower trail (we did this last year) and the grass was tall, the river high. Though she and her two dogs wore bear bells, the sound of the river drowned them out. They surprised a grizzly sleeping in the grass. She is an Alaskan and was prepared, but fear took over. She stepped backwards, tripped and fell. The bear picked her up by the leg and threw her on the ground several times; she doesn’t remember too much as she passed out. When she woke up, she was by the river and had just rolled into the frigid Kenai river which saved her from any more blood loss. One of her dogs was missing, the other one she attached his leash to her backpack and he pulled her 1 1/2 miles to the trailhead where she was able to get help. Several days later her other dog was found seemingly fine until it got sick and they found it had internal injuries, probably from fighting the bear to save the woman’s life.
Apart from reminding guests about bears, this year it seems our biggest problem is tree cutting. Imagine being in a forest service campground and going into a campsite to greet guests and there’s a 15-foot tree lying either near or in the fire pit! Really?
First, GREEN wood doesn’t burn and secondly, it is illegal in a US Forest to cut anything GREEN. I had to tell that to a BLM employee who thought he could do whatever he wanted in our campground including stripping branches to make marshmallow sticks – also illegal. He challenged me to show him the law which was hanging on the very board where he bought his permit to camp. Now, I have to remind EVERY camper not to cut trees or strip green branches to make marshmallow sticks. After talking with some forest service law enforcement, I learned an interesting ‘fact’. The US Forest Service is committed to protecting the forests while the Bureau of Land Management is committed to abusing the forests.
July arrived hot, hot, hot. When I say hot, it was about 80 degrees but feels like a humid 90. For the peninsula, this is HOT. Trust me, it’s HOT! Last year we never reached 70 and that felt HOT! Those few days last year were a blessing in the midst of a very rainy summer. This year we have had mostly sunny days until now. Hence why I can take some time to update our adventure. It is supposed to rain the next 10 days and has been raining for the last four.
July also brought my grandson’s first birthday. He is the reason why we host in Alaska. He lives here with his mommy (our daughter) and his daddy (our son-in-law) in a log house with a dog named Max and now, he has a sandbox! He loves to come to our campground and either ride or push the wagon I use to tidy up sites. He loves being in our trailer and I made a zone for him with toys and books. He loves to eat rocks, wave to guests, and meet other children.
July is also exhaustion month. We arrive May 3, but we begin working May 15. Until Memorial Day weekend, we have few campers and prepare for our first big weekend. Again, like last year with the rain, it was slow. During the first few weeks, we hike and spend time with family. Then, June 11 arrives. Fishing season opens on the Russian River which is about 2 miles down from us on the Kenai River. We are considered ‘overflow’ from the Russian River Campground which has a stay limit of three days. From July 11 until about August 1, we are non-stop and I mean non-stop between fish runs and dip netting for natives. From the moment our eyes open in the morning until we drop about 11 p.m. at night, we are working hard. Remember, it stays light in Alaska until 1 p.m. at the solstice! We have to put “Office Hours” on our trailer or people would knock on our door 24-7.
We work for Alaska Recreational Management running our own campground with a lot of freedom. We dry camp all summer hauling water, hauling our waste, and running a generator while managing and hosting about 100 campers per night (a smaller campground). I have really learned that hosting and managing are two different positions, both of which we perform. Hosting is easy. “Hi, how are you, where are you from, what are your plans while you are here?” Managing is more complicated. “You need two nights and there’s only one? You need a bigger site and I’m booked solid? Let’s see if we can trade you with this site for another site? Your friends are coming in, do I have anything for them too? Did you pay for last night? Where is your permit as it should be on your campsite post? Why are you in this site when it has a reserved sign?” And, we have paper work. Everyday I have to submit a daily sheet that lists the permit numbers of every filled or reserved site, the license plate number, where the guests are from, number of days paid, number of days stayed, the amount paid. My wonderful oldest son helped me this year with a spreadsheet as last year I had to hand input repetitive days on every sheet. And, my other younger son bought me an iPad so I can welcome and check-in guests on the spreadsheet as I meet and greet them.
The South side of the campground has 21 reservable sites. This is the part of the campground I host and manage. The North Side is by the Kenai River and has 7 walk-in non-reservable sites. My husband manages that side as they are our ‘problem children’ most of the time. This past weekend one of those campers decided they didn’t want to pay for wood so they ravaged all of our other sites ‘stealing’ wood left behind for those campers who would eventually have that spot! For those of you who camp and see a checkout time, be kind to your hosts and checkout before or at least by that time. What many people don’t realize is that we only have a few hours everyday when we can actually leave the campground and enjoy Alaska or just do laundry and grocery shop. Some days I never see the river and it’s only 100 yards away! Together, we have created a motto for our work: Done by 1, have some fun; Back by 5, keep campers alive!
*The Kenai River is ALWAYS that color of turquoise. When the glaciers melt they are full of silt. As the water enters the Kenai Lake, the silt falls to the bottom leaving only the minerals suspended in the water. It is the most beautiful river I have ever seen.
Along with managing and hosting, we are responsible for cleaning toilets, tidying up campsites by cleaning out the fire pit that is used for everything from cigarette butts to broken glass beer bottles, raking the site when needed, and unfortunately, cleaning up dog poop whose owners neglect that part of their responsibility. We check bear boxes for items campers left behind; some campers leave things with us like coolers, stoves, or food they can’t take with them on an airplane. We also weed whack, hang signs reminding people of the rules, and keep our eyes open for squatters who steal campsites or refuse to pay.
One of the greatest rewards to this ‘job’ is the people we meet. Without them (and family) this would truly be a thankless job. Recently, we had guests from Australia who are traveling the world.
I had a little problem with some guests’ payment (they paid too much) and when I went to talk with them, they were from Switzerland and gave me a Swiss chocolate bar.
There is a Baptist church group of men who fish together and are here nearly every weekend so we have been able to share our Messianic faith walk with each of them after they see our Shabbat Shalom sign.
We had a wedding ceremony by the Kenai and a reception in Site 10 celebrating Nate and Crystal.
I had an Inner Court dancing friend visit from Colorado.
We have had Israelis along with many Europeans and even some crazy women who decided to jet ski out of Whittier to see the glaciers! Their next stop was a fly-out to a glacier for dog sledding!
At the moment, we have guests in the campground from York, PA where most of my mom’s family still lives. Hi Keith!
Just now I received a text message from some guests who went to a creperie in Seward that we recommended! We enjoyed these fabulous four and spent our Erev Shabbat with them. Two of them will be back in the ‘hood’ next week.
Such is the life of a campground host in July. Right now we’re slower because we’re between fish runs. It has also been raining. I’ve been reading a lot of books as I made a Cooper Creek Library book bin: Take One, Leave One. Today we’ll be checking out a few of the other campgrounds in the area so we can give better information to our campers who are on vacation.
I started this blog post today with the intention of saying ‘thank you’ to all of the campers who stayed with us this past weekend. Our dumpster was full to the top with trash and there was no pick up until yesterday. We asked each camper/campsite to either haul out their trash or take it to the other side and put it in that dumpster. Saturday night my husband I discussed where and how much trash we would find because people would be lazy, stupid or just not care about what we asked. We expected bear boxes to be full, the bags in the toilets to be full or just bags set by the dumpster welcoming every bear on the peninsula. We found NOTHING! Absolutely NOTHING! Every camper this past weekend took their trash with them out of the campground. I was astounded and my faith in humanity was somewhat restored by these people who were here from all over the world. Thank you!
As for today, this is what I see today from our host site. I have been taking one of these everyday from the same spot and will create a slide show of how Cooper Mountain looked as I began each days chores. Until August …
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