b'Alaska Association Notes Impact of COVID, But Says the Future Looks BrightBY JEFF CRIDER Our staff was teaching people how to hook up Alaska to be a once in a lifetime experience, Saxe slideout features.Many people get into the private park busi- and how to put water in the tank, she said. and Miller told Woodalls Campground Manage- There were no slideouts on motorhomesness relatively late in life, often after they have For many parks in Alaska, however, 2020 was mentthat visitors to Alaska often become so en- when we built our park, Saxe said, adding thatspent decades in other professions. the worst on record, with some seeing their chanted with the state and its many attractions they had to reconfigure their campsites over theJeff and Laura Saxe were in their 30s when business plummet 95% or more, particularly that they make multiple return trips. This is par- years, offering a mix of both larger campsites andthey started building Eagles Rest RV Park in parks that depend on RVers traveling the Alaska ticularly true for visitors whose first introduction pull-through sites. But they continued to reinvestValdez, Alaska, in 1991.Highway. to Alaska is by cruise ship. their earnings back into their park, eventually ex-Itwasmyhus- The Saxes have seen considerable growth in Cruise ships do impact RV travel to Alaska, panding it to 400 sites.bands dream, Laura travel to Alaska during the past three decades. Saxe said, adding that cruise ship visits to famous ACOA, for its part, has marketed the states 47said. One factor fueling increased RV travel to locations like Glacier Bay are just the beginning campgrounds through a printed campgroundIn those days, Jeff Alaska was the paving of the 1,900-mile Alaska of their Alaskan adventures. Saxe added that guide produced by Crowley, Texas-based AGS.wasaheavyequip- Highway, which was initially built in 1942 and 1943 there are so many interesting sites to see in The guide is printed on durable paper but foldsment operator for the from Dawson Creek, British Columbia, to Fair- Alaska, from the historic Klondike gold mines to out like a map. It features listings of 47 camp-city of Valdez and spent banks during the height of World War II. the Kenai Peninsula to Denali National Park and grounds and RV parks in nine different regions ofthewintermonths Driving the Alaska Highway was an adventure the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, that its im- Alaska, including Anchorage; the Northern Re-Laura & Jeff Saxe helpingtoclear325 in itself for many decades because the gravel possible to see everything on one trip, let alone gion, which includes the North Pole, a city nearinches of annual snowfall from city streets. But roadway was difficult to drive and easily suscep- experience everything that Alaska has to offer, Fairbanks; the Denali Region and Matanuskaas incessant snow swirled around him, Jeff kept tibletofloods,landslidesandsnowstorms. from hiking, canoeing and kayaking to guided Susitana Valley; the Tok CutoffTaylor Highwaythinking how nice it would be if he and Laura There were sections of it, even 10 years ago, salmon and halibut fishing tours. Region; the South Richardson Highway Region;owned and operated an RV park. that werent paved, Saxe said. We tell people, Dont try to drive here and the Kenai/Soldotna Peninsula Region; and theThey were lucky enough to start building their As more and more of the roadway was paved, spend two weeks, she said. Come up for the Southeast Region, which includes Haines andpark early in their adult lives, using the income however, RV travel to Alaska increased. Interest whole summer or spend a month. Juneau.from Jeffs winter work for the city of Valdez, in Alaska as a travel destination has also been Saxe said many of her campers come every The guide also includes maps of several re-while they built their park from 83 sites to 400 sites fueled over the past 15 years by several reality other year or every three years. She is also see- gions of Alaska and Canadas Yukon Territory, asuntil it became the largest RV park in Alaska. TV shows, starting with Deadliest Catch in ing more full-time RVers with kids. well as advertisements for several campgroundThe Saxes also got involved politically and be- 2005, Gold Rush in 2010, Building Alaska in We have high-speed Internet for people resorts and companies that provide halibut andcame founding members of the Alaska Camp- 2012, Life Below Zero in 2013 and Alaskan who work, she explained. We have a lot of peo- salmon fishing tours as well as jeep tours on thegroundOwnersAssociation (ACOA),which Bush People in 2014. ple who come here and work. Its younger people scenic Denali Highway.started in 1991. Laura Saxe is currently president Of course, long before people were RVing to working and bringing the kids. Weve seen that For government affairs, ACOA works closelyof the association, a position she has held for the Alaska, they were taking cruise ships to get increase over the years, whether they drive up with Jeff Sims, senior director of state relationspast 20 years. there. Alaskas cruise ship industry dates back to or fly up. and program advocacy for the National Associ-This year, of course, has been an incredibly the 1880sjust two decades after the U.S. pur- Saxe has even had campers from outside ation of RV Parks and Campgrounds(ARVC).difficult year for Alaskan park operators due to chased Alaska from a nearly bankrupt Russia in Alaska who have camped at her park every year Saxe and Miller credit Sims for his efforts inCOVID. They not only suffered the loss of RVers 1867according to a historical report by the they have been in business. 2014 to persuade the Alaska Division of Fire andfrom the U.S. and Canada, who couldnt drive Cruise Lines International Association(CLIA). But while tourism to Alaska has increased Life Safetyto withdraw a regulatory proposal thatto Alaska as normal because of the closure of While the Alaskan cruise business has had its during the past three decades, its also gone would have required park operators to install firethe U.S.-Canadian border, but also lost interna- ups and downs, the industry had its biggest year through up cycles and down cycles, reflecting suppression sprinkler systems if they had six ortional travelers arriving by plane, as well as ever in 2019 with 1.3 million visitors, according to everything from the economy to political tensions more cabin units.cruise ship passengers, totaling over a million CLIA statistics. with China to COVID. This year, of course, the main challenge fortravelers a year visiting Glacier Bay and other Tourism to Alaska has also been promoted by The Saxes park initially suffered a downturn ACOA and its members has been COVID. Duringscenic locations. the state of Alaska itself in business when the cruise ship industry de- the early stages of the pandemic, Saxe and MillerFacing the loss of their usual customer base and by the Alaska Travel cided to relocate most of its ships from Valdez to were participating in three webinars a day involv-this year, the Saxes redirected their advertising IndustryAssociation, Glacier Bay. ing ARVC, the state of Alaska and the city of Valdez.budget to promote camping at their park by saidShannonMiller, We used to have 83 to 85 docking cruise But while Alaska quickly suffered a shutdownAlaskans instead of the out-of-state and interna- who worked for the asso- ships, Saxe said. We had 19 or 20 dockings in travel, the loss of its cruise business and thetional travelers that typically comprise most of ciation before becoming last year. closure of the U.S.-Canadian border as a resulttheir customer base. The strategy worked. Their executivedirectorof But the Saxes have persevered and rolled of the pandemic, Saxe and Miller had the luxury2020 business was only down by 30%, Laura ACOA 10 years ago. with the punches, which have not only involved of being able to observe how the campground in-Saxe said, noting that they had many more But while some peo- the relocation of most of Alaskas cruise ships but dustry in the Lower 48 states responded to theAlaskan campers, especially first-time campers. Shannon Miller ple may consider a trip to the RV industrys decision to build larger RVs with crisis at least a month before parks in Alaskaopened for the summer camping season.We were able to learn what mistakes werebeing made so we could fine-tune our efforts,Saxe said.Saxe created her own COVID safety plan forher park with three phases and shared her ideaswith other ACOA members. We banded to-gether, she said.To minimize the risk of COVID spreading inbathrooms, Saxe kept her shower houses closedall summer, requiring her guests to come only ifthey had self-contained RVs, although she lateropened her bathrooms for tent campers. Saxealso only let one person into her office at a timeand enforced mask-wearing, since Valdez itselfhas a mask mandate.But while 2020 has obviously been a challenge,Saxe said she is optimistic about the future, notonly for her park but for Alaska in general.While most ACOA campgrounds sufferedtremendous losses this year, they are still in busi-ness, a vaccine is on the horizon, and people stillwant to come to Alaska.I have not heard of anyone closing down,Saxe said of her members, adding, The attitudeof most of my guests who had to cancel theirvisits this year was to roll their deposit over to afuture date. A lot of people had to cancel theirvacations this year. A lot of people who wantedto stay the whole summer couldnt drive up.Were already sold out on some dates next year.Ihavepeoplebookedinto2022and2023.Theyre from Florida, Colorado, Arizona, Ger-many and so on. So, Im thinking next year couldbe a banner year. WCM24 -November 2020Woodalls Campground Management'