Pandemic brings record numbers to peninsula's public spaces

Jun 30, 2021

Chugach National Forest campgrounds on the Kenai Peninsula saw an increase in revenue of 16 percent in 2020. That's the largest increase they've seen in years.
Credit Sabine Poux/KDLL

It’s finally sunny and nice out, and with a three-day holiday weekend ahead, Alaskans are likely to hit the outdoors in every direction. That’s always been the case, but in the past two years, it’s been more than ever.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020 and most social activities were shuttered, Alaskans headed outside in record numbers. For Southcentral Alaska, that often means the Chugach National Forest, Chugach State Park and the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Across those three areas, trails, cabins and campgrounds saw unprecedented use.

On the peninsula, the Chugach National Forest campground revenue increased by 16 percent in 2020. That’s the largest increase in the last four years. That doesn’t include the Russian River Campground, though, as that campground tracks more with the salmon runs than with other campground use.

Last year was full of reports of trailhead parking lots overflowing and people camping in dispersed sites when campgrounds are full, an increase in human waste and litter and people going off trails. Alicia King, the regional public affairs specialist, said the forest works with partners to maintain trails on those issues.

The Alaska State Parks system saw similar increases in its cabin and campground uses. Chugach State Park, which surrounds Anchorage, saw its cabin occupancy increase from 47.8 percent to more than 60 percent. Campgrounds revenue increased everywhere, in some cases doubling, according to a release from Alaska State Parks in March.

However, that didn’t mean big surplus for the division; a lot of that extra revenue went back into maintenance and administration costs. This year is presenting a few issues with keeping up with trash removal, too — a recent Facebook post from Alaska State Parks showed an overflowing dumpster and asks visitors to be ready to pack out trash should the dumpsters be full due to short staffing.

The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge reported similar increases in usage, with trailheads overflowing and campgrounds full. The Chugach National Forest said to expect crowded conditions this weekend as well, with waits on the roads and trailheads.

The Fourth of July weekend always takes Alaskans outdoors, and the Chugach National Forest is warning people to make sure they book their campground spots, with the exception of the Russian River, which is first-come, first-serve. Like State Parks, the Forest Service is asking people to dispose of trash in an appropriate receptacle or pack it out if it’s full. Fireworks are prohibited on forest lands as well, even though it’s the Fourth of July.

Reach reporter Elizabeth Earl at elizabethearl@gmail.com.