Chilly Memorial Day weekend can’t deter determined campers

Thursday, June 8, 2017 - 13:13
  • People walk along the shore of Eklutna Lake on May 27, 2017. The lake is one of several popular weekend destinations in the Chugiak-Eagle River area. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • A sign at the entrance to the Eklutna Lake Campground, May 27, 2017. On Memorial Day Weekend, the lakeside campground is especially popular. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Kayakers paddle Eklutna Lake on May 27, 2017. The lake is a popular summer destination, especially over Memorial Day Weekend. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • A row of bikes for rent outside Lifetime Adventures at Eklutna Lake, May 27, 2017. While the Eklutna Lake Campground was filled to capacity, cooler weather meant slow business for the local kayak and bike rental business. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)

Despite cool, overcast weather that brought a dusting of snow to higher elevations, Memorial Day Weekend brought throngs of visitors to Chugiak-Eagle River area campgrounds.

At the 57-campsite Eagle River Campground, just a few spots remained Saturday afternoon. At the Eklutna Lake Campground — which has 50 campsites and 15 overflow spots — every space was full Thursday night. By Friday morning, with a half-dozen people due to leave and more than a dozen lined up to take their places, volunteer ranger’s assistant Lilly Toal flipped the sign along the road leading in: “Full.”

The weekend campers ranged from snowbird retirees to tourists and plenty of locals enjoying a quick getaway.

“We have a lot of families, which is really cool,” Toal said. “I really like that about this weekend in particular.”

There were bears, too. Warning signs peppered the trailheads and bulletin boards. One of the animals ran through camp Saturday morning, Toal said. To discourage them, the campground provides complimentary bear-resistent food boxes for camper use, and Toal was on a mission to ensure no cooler went unsecured.

“That’s the one thing that I’m really trying to be diligent on,” she said.

Over Memorial Day Weekend, coolers abounded. As the weekend kicked off Saturday, the lakeside campground was packed with tents, trucks, trailers and motor homes. People relaxed around picnic tables, walked dogs along the side of the road and strolled to and from the nearby lakeshore. Kids played in the mud on the beach and families rode bikes on the trail around the lake.

A pair of kayaks bobbed across the lake under cloudy skies. Although the campground was full, the breezy temperatures put a damper on business for Lifetime Adventures, the lakeside kayak and bike rental company. During what was historically one of the busiest weekends of the year, kayaks have mostly stayed out of the water and bikes remained lined up in front of the shop. The wind was blowing in the wrong direction, one employee said.

“It’s obviously slow with the cooler weather, but we have all summer to get out there,” said owner Dan McDonough.

After more than 20 years in business, he wasn’t worried. Fortunes can change with a shift in the wind.

“It’s a weather dependant business,” he said. “It all tends to equal out.”

Mist gathered around the mountain peaks above the lake, and a cold breeze rippled through the trees. At the campground, though, smoke rose from afternoon campfires and voices rang through the woods. It was the first long weekend of the summer season, and a little chill wasn’t stopping anyone.

“People are still having fun,” Toal said.

Contact reporter Kirsten Swann at [email protected]

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