Air Force Rec Camp closes forever
The Seward Air Force Recreation Camp, long a mainstay of Seward summers for military families, both active duty and retired, sits eerily quiet and bare today, as autumn leaves begin to fall. A string of American flags on the side of one of its main buildings already looks faded and tattered. A printed sign taped to the office door informs the public that the rec camp has been closed down forever, effective Sept. 4.
Meanwhile, the bulletin board to its side still carries a warning about bears in the area, and information about the cost of renting one of the 15 primitive wooden cabins, or a tent or RV campsite. Only a week earlier, Labor Day weekend, and for the Silver Salmon Derby, Military Days and Fourth of July Weekend, it was teeming with campers. Some 16-20,000 people used the camp annually, according to John Pennell Chief of Media Operations at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
“JBER leadership made the decision to close the activity as part of ongoing efficiency efforts to consolidate or drawdown JBER recreational activities to meet fiscal realities,” he said
“The activity has lost money for several years and would have required significant capital investment to keep it operational in the future,” he said. Meanwhile, he added, “the adjacent Army Resort will remain open year-round and can absorb much of the demand of authorized DOD customers.”
The camp site and its available facilities was considered primitive by many visitors when compared to other, more modern military rec camps, and was primarily geared for those here to fish. Yet campers paid up to $100-$150 per day to rent the wooden cabins, and $15-$18 to hook up tents and RVs.
In addition to the campers and the Seward businesses that they frequented, should they not decide to attend the Army Resort and continue coming to Seward, the closure affects 15 employees, one of whom worked at the rec camp full time, and the remainder of whom were seasonal.
The facility, which has been a part of Seward life since the mid-70s, is being prepared for permanent closure. The property will be turned back over to the City of Seward as soon as all preparations and arrangements have been made. Then, it will be up to the city to determine the future use of the property.
When the announcement was made that its closure was imminent at a city council meeting in April, it was greeted with shock by former Mayor Willard Dunham. “You dropped a bombshell,” Dunham said. “I’m really surprised.” He said the facility was an institution for this town and that the vacations of “thousands of visitors” would have to be rearranged. But some council members and administrators appeared pleased that a large lot of prime city land, right off the Seward Highway would become available for them to use, or sell, or open up for private or public development. Until now, city officials have been waiting to see what would happen next.