Greetings from Alaska! Yes, we are still living in Alaska as mostly full-time RV’ers. We have spent the past three winters in Cooper Landing and enjoyed every minute from the snow and cold to even the four hours of daylight. On the left is a photo of the overlook near where we live. Everyday the ‘picture’ changes making this place a phenomenal photo op.
The first winter we were here four months when our granddaughter was born; our fifth-wheel was in Las Vegas. The past two winters we asked if we could ‘store’ our fifth-wheel at the Princess RV Park of the Kenai Princess Lodge and we were blessed with a ‘yes.’ Our rental ‘suite’ and trailer were about 100 yards from each other so we could keep an eye on it or retrieve things we needed from it. We rented a small 2-bedroom ‘suite’ from locals for the dark days and colds nights while our trailer waited for us to return.
We did not head south to the Lower 48 with our Grand Design Solitude for several reasons: the pandemic and our refusal to take part in medical tyranny, enjoying winters without tourists, our continually growing grandchildren, and we just didn’t want to do the Alcan again with the possibility of destroying a second trailer. We believe that Grand Design is a better company than Primetime, but ‘better safe than sorry’ as the saying goes.
Summers of 2020 and 2021 we continued camp hosting at Cooper Creek Campground. Even with the ‘plandemic’ we had campers –– mostly Alaskan –– and continued to meet new people while former campers, who could, returned to fish and stay with us. To say we loved the experience as hosts would be an understatement. We enjoyed the people we met, we appreciated Alaska Recreational Management (ARM) who we worked for, and we embraced being outside all summer. We loved the Kenai River and its turquoise color, Cooper Creek and its returning salmon, our outdoor office surroundings, the smells, the flowers, the birds, the moose, the beauty … everything.
The summer of 2021, however, brought some changes to the campground which also brought a new perspective to our sweet, little job. When we arrived at the campground, there were downed trees everywhere –– not downed from the weather, but from the forest service and the maintenance man who worked for the concessionaire. Sadly, no one cleans up their messes, especially the forest service. We did a little clean-up since the trees blocked the road and fell on tables, but we soon decided removing major tree debris was not part of our job description. Those who came to clean it up just made huge piles of slash that technically could be burned, but not for another year. We knew that our crazy campers who have no sense about fires would bring us a summer full of grief. We were not mistaken. Many campers tried to burn the slash, the tree trunks, and the leaves to no avail. We were always having to haul slash piles from campsites because the wood never burned, and the mess that was left didn’t meet our standards of a campsite for new campers.
One other small issue, though flattering to a degree, was that we were pretty much ignored by those we worked for. We knew that we ran our campground efficiently and that they didn’t need to check on us or worry about us. For that we were, and are, appreciative. It was ‘our’ campground and we were allowed to run it the way we wanted. However, twice a week someone was to pick up the envelopes and money that we collected. Sometimes it was almost two weeks until someone came. At times we had a lot of money in our possession. This concerned us because we have no police protection from either the forest service or the local town. Anyone could come and demand that cash and we would have no recourse.
We also had another issue that made us rethink the value of the job vs. our personal health. My husband and I tried to move a table –– the tables are immense and extremely heavy. Yes, people move those tables which makes it difficult for other campers to use the site or the table is placed right next to the fire pit which is dangerous. My husband ended up with a hernia. It was covered through workman’s comp which was an incredible blessing, and we were told to ask for young men from another campground to come and help us in the future. I had also fallen a couple of times –– mostly my own stupidity –– once because the maintenance man didn’t clean up after himself and I did his job. We just didn’t want to continue hurting ourselves. It takes longer to feel better when you’re older!
We are great camp hosts and learned that many people actually came to the campground because of the reviews we received! I worked with every camper to get the site they wanted or needed, and I always filled my no-show sites by calling reservations to confirm campsites. To have an open site brought joy to everyone who drove through and suddenly found themselves a place to set up their tent. We gave out bear spray to guests that had none, and we gave out marshmallow sticks so campers wouldn’t cut down trees. We helped big rigs back-in and pull-out, jumped vehicles, ran shuttles, and offered space for those who had issues with leaving –– lost keys in the river fishing. I had a Naturalist board and a children’s hike sheet for learning about the plants, berries, and animals in the campground. We truly were more than camp hosts –– we were recreational advisors, too.
We made a lot of new acquaintances, and a few good friends –– friends that we continue to see year round. One of our campers moose hunts and asked us to help process the moose for meat! Another couple has a Montana fifth-wheel the size of ours. We would love to camp with them around Alaska. And, that is when we began to realize that as much as we loved our job, we could never leave and enjoy the state of Alaska when it was summer. We could never hike when we wanted to because we were always tied to the campground. Of course, if we were lesser camp hosts, we could leave; but we would return to whackadoodles involved in shenanigans so we stayed attached to Site 1 at Cooper Creek Campground for five years –– a memorable and rewarding five years.
When September 15, 2021 arrived, we packed our trailer and headed for Seward, Alaska not knowing that the drive around the loop would be our last with our ‘home.’ We enjoy camping by the bay and spent a week watching seals and boats. We decompressed from the daily chores of hosting and slept in! After a week, we headed north to Kesugi Ken State Park near Denali. We needed a new adventure. We camped in the cold, hiked in autumn weather, and had a beautiful view of Denali. Too soon we had to leave and return to Cooper Landing because everything shuts down for the winter.
In Cooper Landing, we stayed at the Princess RV Park until we could move into our ‘suite.’ Some dear friends from Texas came up for my husband to officiate their wedding at the campground by the river. It was a beautiful autumn day spent celebrating with people we met at Cooper Creek Campground opening fishing weekend the first year we hosted. We visited them in Texas, and now they were married in Alaska.
Through the winter, we did a lot of soul-searching about what we really wanted from our life in Alaska. We are now residents and we even bought a cheap ‘beater with a heater’ Subaru. We desired to be part of the community, something that was difficult living at the campground with never-ending duties.
We also knew that because of the millions of dead trees due to beetle kill that more trees were going to be cut down and left to the crazies in the campground. With fire danger being high the past two years, due to lack of rain, we didn’t want to be responsible for campers who were negligent and started a forest fire. We were right about the trees. One campground didn’t open due to the danger of falling trees; another had so many trees removed that every site has a view of Kenai Lake. The river side of our campground didn’t hire a tree contractor and there are trees and brush everywhere –– again the work of the US Forest Service, your tax dollars not at work. I actually wrote them a letter last year about their lack of care for the forest; I got a sham reply. This year the head dude retired. The woman taking his place is much more ‘aware’ of reality in the forest when it comes to tree management and forest fires.
For the past five years, my husband had to haul water three times a week and pump it into our tanks. We also had to haul our sewer in a ‘honey wagon’ twice a month, dumping it in the manhole of the pit toilet. This became tedious, and with my husband’s injury, there were times that I needed serious help. We paid for a septic company, but after the first visit, they made excuses for not coming. We needed that service; we wanted that service, and hoped that maybe we would get a raise or our employer would offer to pay for it. Wishful thinking. We did not have electricity even though there was an electric pole within 20 yards, and every year we were told that maybe next year we would get electric hook-up. We used solar, batteries, and a lot of gas for a generator. After five years, we needed a change. We began to pray for other options to make our life just a little easier.
One of our options was to buy a bed and breakfast, but the whole prospect never materialized because of the woman selling. A second option became available through my cleaning job at the post office. One of the clerks had decided to buy a house and leave the place he had been ‘camping’ for the past two years –– the Cooper Landing Community Center. We made a few calls and suddenly we were the new caretakers at the community center. The most difficult part of the decision was not calling our ARM manager, but letting regular campers, who appreciated the way I managed the campground, know that we would no longer be there.
At the end of April 2022, we moved into our new spot with full hook-ups. It was an adventure as it seems everything is. The ground was soft, very soft and still watery. Our wheels sunk deep into the mire. We made a French drain and put boards on top hoping that the ground would dry quickly. We take up more room than others who have perched here so we had to cut down trees just to get into the space. There was a lot of clean up because the former care taker cut wood for a wood stove. Between the slash, dead branches, and saw dust, we had work to do. BUT, having water, electric, and sewer made the whole process worth every minute. We have a view of the Kenai River through the ‘dead’ beetle kill trees and a beautiful view of Mount Cecil.
Our ‘new’ job consists of being ‘present’ and keeping the center looking ‘nice’ by weed whacking, watering flowers, and closing the gate at night and opening it in the morning. We have to be aware of events at the center and make sure people are being respectful of the place. We are not responsible for cleaning up after events which is very nice, but we are responsible for everything outside.
This is a non-paying job which means we must find some work to do. My husband is working his toushy off for our winter landlords. They are stripping, sanding, and re-staining their huge house. On June 1, he began working two days a week for our daughter in her husband’s fishing office; I am hoping to start proofing legal transcripts. We have a lot more free time to do whatever we want including working however we want. We also have more time to do fun things with our grandchildren rather than being babysitters.
Our winter ‘suite’ will not be available this winter. The owners want to transform the place into their bedroom. Though it will be another adventure, we are able to stay in our trailer at the center for the winter. We will have electric and propane for heat, but they turn off the water (they also said they turn off the sewer, but no one does that). We will have to figure out how to fill our 80-gallon tank twice a week which will be a challenge no matter how we do it. We will have access to the inside of the center so we can run a hose, but at -20 that could be ‘fun.’ Still, we have the opportunity to remain in our ‘house’ and not unpack everything that could possibly freeze as we have for the past two winters. Moving in and out every six months is tedious. We will most definitely spend at least one month in the Lower 48 which will mean warmth, water, and family.
This is where I am now –– sitting in my trailer next to the very high Kenai River with a beautiful view of Mount Cecil that is striped white with snow. The yearly softball tournament has just ended. It was two weeks of hanging with the locals –– my husband even played for the Creakers (Creekers) old-folks team. This next week is VBS at the center and my grandson will be spending a night here so it’s easy access the next morning. There are weddings, sewing days, meetings, and sometimes nothing. Still, locals come by to run their dogs or drop off their recycling. The library is here so people stop there. I am only one mile from the post office so I try to walk there every day to check the mail.
However, I miss walking around the campground and getting miles and miles on my walking shoes. I miss seeing new faces every day from wherever in the world and I even miss cleaning pit toilets –– I have two here that are rarely used. It’s quieter here. I can sit by the river all day if I want; I can write if I want; I can nap if I need one. Life is slower, and when my son visited recently, we actually had time to spend with him. Tomorrow, camper friends will be here for opening fishing day and we’ll meet them for dinner. Other friends will be letting us know where they found a spot. And, our moose buddies will be here next week and need us to help them back their trailer into a site.
This is our life in Alaska. We live in our RV full-time again. We have utilities. We take care of the Cooper Landing Community Center. We have made local friends. We have made international friends. We snow machine, ice skate, and cross country ski in the winter –– my husband teaches ski lessons at Alyeska Resort so he can downhill ski for free. We have small jobs to keep us busy, but nothing that holds us down. This is what semi-retirement looks like, and I never imagined that I would be a resident in the Last Frontier. Every day I look around me and thank Yeshua that I am here for however long he wants me here –– because everything changes sometime and nothing lasts forever.
Remembering Life 2021
Remembering 5 Years of Cooper Creek Campers