When Captain Cook State Recreation Area opens for camping later this month, it will be under new management, but the parties involved are hoping that won't change the atmosphere of the quiet spot at the end of the road.
"We hope to maintain the flavor of it being a nice little getaway," said Bruce McCurtain, managing partner of Alaska Recreational Management, the private outfit contracted by the state Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation to maintain and manage the site.
At the same time, McCurtain said, he plans to institute some upgrades that will make it even more attractive to visitors and easier for them to plan a visit.
"We're very excited about it," McCurtain said. "It's an opportunity to work with state parks we've been looking forward to anything we can do to help them out."
Captain Cook State Recreation Area, opened in the 1970s, covers some 3,500 acres at the end of the Kenai Spur Highway.
The park boundaries, which start at Mile 36 of the highway, encompass saltwater beaches along the shores of Cook Inlet, freshwater boating, fishing and swimming on Stormy Lake, and the 51-site Discovery Campground at the very end of the paved road. For day users, there are picnic facilities at Stormy Lake, Bishop Creek and Discovery Campground.
Captain Cook often serves as the end of the road for canoeists as well, providing a spot to take out after paddling down the Swanson River Canoe Trails in the adjacent Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
State Parks area superintendent Chris Degernes said the search for a new way to manage Captain Cook began during the winter, after Gov. Frank Murkowski included a reduction in funding for the division in his budget.
"One way to accommodate that budget cut was to put several state parks out to private management," Degernes said, adding that because they knew cuts were coming, the division could to put plenty of thought and planning into the process.
"We were able to plan early in the winter so we could go into this with a little more of a plan," Degernes said. "From a park visitor's point of view, they should see good service, and probably some improved maintenance."
Degernes said she was happy to see Alaska Recreational Management involved.
"We know Captain Cook will be in good hands," she said.
Alaska Recreational Management has plenty of experience maintaining campgrounds in Alaska, including U.S. Forest Service campgrounds and the Russian River ferry in the Chugach National Forest for the last 10 years.
"We've been doing this for a long time," McCurtain said. "I think there's some real creative things we can do with State Parks."
McCurtain, who had planned to visit Captain Cook on Wednesday, said the first order of business will be the usual annual maintenance cleaning up campsites, picking up downed branches and getting everything ready for the upcoming season.
After that, he said he'll be looking to State Parks and the site users for guidance.
"We'll start in there doing some maintenance things maybe I have some more cash in my budget than State Parks and we're going to put out some comment cards," McCurtain said. "... We're going to rely on State Parks and the public to tell us how to spend our maintenance dollars."
The one thing not yet in the plan is the weekly campfire presentations put on by local experts at the Discovery Campground over the summer. Degernes said maintenance issues were higher on the list of priorities, but added that she hoped the new managers would be able to reinstitute the talks over the summer.
Degernes said the camping fee will stay the same $10 per night but added that a day-use fee may be implemented once Alaska Recreational Management completes any improvements to the site. The campground is expected to be ready for visitors by the weekend of May 21, if not sooner.
McCurtain described his business as a public-private partnership and said he plans to provide more than just facility management.
For example, Alaska Recreation Management has a network on which it can post a variety of reports, helping its government partner cut down on time spent taking care of paperwork.
"We want to find new ways to help State Parks maintain facilities in these days of shrinking budgets," McCurtain said.
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