The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Heidi Zemach
For The LOG 

Military resort seeks more visitors

 

Heidi Zemach | For The LOG

Seward Military Resort charter boat users display the fish they brought back Sunday evening.

Tiny squirrels chased one another around well-manicured lawns at the Seward (Military) Resort Wednesday afternoon. The resort’s fish house, where people clean and vacuum pack the fish they catch on resort charter boats had only six or seven people in it, processing fish which they worked extra hard to catch this year, and short lines formed at the booking station counter’s gift shop.

“We’ve had busy days, and busy weekends, but tracking is just like normal,” said Scott Bartlett, who manages the Seward Resort for its owner, the U.S. Army. “We expected it would be better.”

The Seward Resort bulked up its staff and increased the number of fishing charter boats it signed on this summer in order to be prepared for what the manager hoped would be an especially busy summer season absorbing the crowds affected by the Seward Air Force Recreation Camp facility’s permanent closure last September. Some 16,000 to 20,000 active duty military, reservists, retirees and their families used that camp annually, and it was a mainstay of the community from the mid-‘70s.

Hotel rooms at the resort are still fully booked for the summer, but the RV park and charter boat use remain only at 75 percent of their capacity. Also, in prior years, the resort would be visited by at least one caravan from the Special Military Active Retired Travel Club, or SMART travel clubs made up of 20 to 25 RVs filled with military retirees from the Lower 48. This year they’re not coming. Bartlett said.

Two sun-filled months, plus the fact that Alaska-based soldiers are all back from deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq for the first time in three or four years, also made for the possibility of a really good season, Bartlett said.

One reason there aren’t more customers might be that RV travel is greatly lower across the U.S. this summer due to high fuel prices and a sluggish economy generally, he said.

Also, maybe military folks did not get the message that Seward Resort is still open.

Customers frequently stopped by the resort’s booth at the Sportsman’s Show in Anchorage this spring, and were surprised to learn that the resort wasn’t closed down, Bartlett said. As a result of misinformation or confusion about the rec camp’s closure, the resort has begun an ambitious marketing campaign to reach out to the military community and let them know that they’re still up and running.

“We’ve had some challenges getting the Air Force to reach the people at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson” Bartlett said. The resort moved under the new management of the Pacific Recreation Lodging, in Waikiki Beach, Hawaii a little over two years ago. But he’s planning to talk with JBER representatives, and encourage them to help the Seward Resort get the word out to service men and women there.

Also, Department of Defense civilians in Alaska, who are also resort customers, have a government imposed furlough one day per week, which gives them more time to recreate, but 20 percent less income with which to do so.

Sunday evening the place was abuzz with military families, ending a busy weekend.

“It’s beautiful here. We like to hang out... do some paddle boarding at Miller’s Landing and some rafting,” said Lori Scott, of Eagle River, who brought along friends from San Antonio, Texas. Now retired in Alaska, they happily displayed all of the fish they caught on their charter. Now their freezer will be full of fish for the winter, Scott said. This is the fourth time this summer that they’ve come to Seward, and brought friends and family along. They find some great two-for-one charter boat deals in the Northern Lights Coupon Book. They didn’t catch fish on every charter, but Sunday daughter Jesse caught the biggest fish of anyone on the charter.

“It’s great. The charter was wonderful. The guys are fantastic, they put us on the fish,’ agreed her friend’s husband, Jerry Cheatham.

Sharing beers and fish stories on the outdoor food terrace were Tony Penaz, along with his buddy Caleb and their friend Doug Olson. “They do a good job coordinating everything. They have good facilities. It’s pretty nice here,” said Penaz. He and Caleb are staying at JBER for their vacation, while stationed overseas in South Korea.

The resort had a good spring this year, with several conferences including a military chaplain’s retreat, and special retreats for single soldiers and married couples, Bartlett said. Also, Seward businesses are continuing to realize trickle-down effects of having a military resort in town. It provided $600,000 to $700,000 in advance ticket sales with Kenai Fjords Tours, Major Marine, float trips and Alaska SeaLife Center tickets. All were offered at a 20 percent military discount, with half the discount going to the customer, and half going back to the resort. The resort continues to be the top seller of advance tickets at the Alaska SeaLife Center, booking even more tickets than the cruise ships do, Bartlett said.

He’s hoping that August, with the silvers running and the Silver Salmon Derby underway, business will pick up. “It’s still early yet,” Bartlett said.

 

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