This may be the last time I actually have time to write about our adventures at Cooper Creek Campground. Why? Because Memorial Day weekend begins the days of reservations. After Memorial Day, June 11 follows as the BIG DAY that brings on summer.
This area of Kenai Peninsula is known for its fishing – salmon and trout. Fishing season opens June 11. From that day until school starts in mid-August followed by a small Labor Day crowd, we are packed solid. During the height of the fishing season, there are no campsites to be found anywhere near the Kenai and Russian Rivers. Those poor souls who didn’t know to make a reservation – both tourists and locals alike – generally find themselves by the side of the road on a pullout if there is room. The locals love to act like the whole reservation process is new even though it has been around for 25 years. Their guilt trips are better than a float trip on the Kenai.
So in these days of calm before the campers, we have enjoyed taking evening walks in a completely empty campground. We always remember we forgot our bear spray at the farthest point where bears tend to hang out (though we have yet to see one in three years). We have had looky-loos on the mountain side checking out the campground, but only one has stayed overnight. On the river side, we have had two to four campers per night.
We have also spent our free time getting the campground ready for campers. This means raking dead autumn leaves that have accumulated all winter everywhere. We rake trails to the bathrooms and all of the campsites – our small campground has 28 sites. We rake around the bear boxes, the tables, the fire pits and make the perimeters obvious. We use a blower to remove the leaves from the roadway.
We also clean. We clean up trash and toilet paper that we know wasn’t left by bears or moose. We clean the toilets. This involves not only wiping the actual toilet, but also wiping everything down from the walls to the door handles and taking a broom and removing all cobwebs. We make sure there are sufficient rolls of toilet paper and trash bags (which people take for their personal use). I also reprint the rocks I use for the door stops. Note: This is NOT the Rocky Mountains so rocks are very difficult to find.
We also gather all of the tools of the trade from rakes and shovels and trash pickers to supplies of toilet paper, paper towels, and cleaners with spray bottles. We keep those in something called a ‘coffin.’
We gather the signs for the Self-serve Kiosk that remind campers about wood cutting, bears, stay limits, no ATVs, and keeping their pets on leashes. We hang those when we find out the water has tested ‘potable.’ At that point in time, the campground is no longer free, but $18 per night.
We also prepare our Kiosk. Over the years we have found that people want to know about Cooper Landing and vicinity. We put signs on our kiosk with information about fishing and rafting to help with RV issues. The spaces left in this year’s Kiosk will have photos of resident wildflowers and berries. (My printer ran out of color ink.)
Our manager drops off our tubs of stuff too. We have Reserved placards, reservation forms and sheets, and pay envelopes for the iron ranger. We have keys for the locks on the toilet paper rolls, keys for the storage closets at the toilets, keys for the iron ranger to pull out the payment envelopes, and a key for the birdhouse where payment for the firewood goes. Yes, we do sell firewood and bundles should arrive any day.
Today my manager arrived with my DAR or Daily Arrival Report. This lists all of the upcoming reservations. I have to fill out a reservation form for each one to be used as my check-in process. I ask each camper if they are who the reservation says they are, ask where they’re from and take down their license plate number. On my little form, I make notes if they are Locals that I will call if they don’t show up the first night of their reservation as that is part of the process – all sites must be occupied the first night. If they don’t come, I find out if they are coming or if they want to release their site. I write their arrival date and departure and their reservation number on the reservation sheet. After I fill out those forms, I fill out the placards that hang on each site with reservation dates and the name of who reserved the site. Then, I walk around the campground and hang them on the site post.
This evening as I trekked around the 1/4 mile loop and saw the signs, I realized ‘it’s all going to start this weekend.’ We’re going to meet people from around the world – already we’ve had people here from Australia and Hungary, but for about 8 weeks it will be a never-seeming-to-end process and then it will be over. Just. Like. That.
Tonight I enjoyed the smell of moist, decaying leaves in the air, the quiet and uniqueness of each campsite wondering who will occupy them, and listened to birds singing at 8 p.m.
I followed the footprints of a moose up the road, said ‘hi’ to Steve or Allen, the resident squirrels, and made note of the tree stump with mushrooms or lichen growing out of it. When the calm ends, these moments won’t return until September when the wild berries ripen and the trees lose the leaves we have to rake in the spring.
The nights will continue to be lighter later – until 1 a.m. – and visits with new campers will last longer into that evening blur. In the morning, the routine of preparing sites for new campers after people leave, cleaning toilets, preparing and printing a daily report of the campers who stayed with us, and saying goodbye to those campers who made our day special will begin again. We will share what we know with newcomers about nearby hikes to see the salmon jump up the river, about the beautiful opportunity they have to float the Kenai and see bald eagles and bears, about fishing regulations, about carrying bear spray on back country hikes, and answer questions about the Rotary Fish Trap by Site 18.
Apart from raising my children, this is the best job I could have ever imagined having. As I write, the evening sun touches the newly-greened trees by our campsite and I know this is truly the calm before the campers.