Seward: Alaska's resort town

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 Stunning mountains flank the harbor at Seward, Alaska.    Seth Robson/Stars and Stripes
From Stripes.com
Stunning mountains flank the harbor at Seward, Alaska. Seth Robson/Stars and Stripes

Seward: Alaska's resort town

by: Seth Robson | .
Stars and Stripes | .
published: March 30, 2015

SEWARD, Alaska — While Seward’s scenery is stunning and the fishing’s great, local resort manager Scott Bartlett says the people he meets are the best part of the job.

“Everybody on the other side of the counter had to earn the right to be here,” said Bartlett, who runs Seward Military Resort, a rest-and-recreation facility for servicemembers, retirees, Department of Defense civilians and their families.

“You can’t just walk in off the street, and that’s pretty significant,” said the former soldier, who was the resort’s last 1st sergeant when it opened in 1996 and stayed on as its civilian manager after he retired in 1998.

The resort includes a warm lodge with wireless internet, a bar and barbecue area and accommodation that starts at $12 a day for a tent site. It also has 56 motel rooms, 40 RV sites, 12 six-bed townhouses and six Mongolian “yurt” frame tents.

Prices vary by rank and season. The hotel rooms, for example, start at $86 a night in peak season for lower enlisted and $127 for senior officers and civilians.

“In summer, when it is full, we can have up to 450 people here,” Bartlett said.

Visitors from in-state are stationed at bases such as Fort Wainwright, Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson and Fort Greely. The resort has hosted wounded soldiers from the Army’s Alaskan Warrior Transition Battalion as well as troops who come for rest and recreation.

The resort has its own fleet of five charter fishing boats – launched from a military dock in the harbor – that take guests out to hook halibut, salmon, rock fish and ling cod. A fishing license allows a guest to catch two halibut, four rock fish and six salmon a day.

Charter fishing is something that most soldiers couldn’t afford without the discounts offered by the resort, Bartlett said.

“Downtown, a fishing trip will cost you $365 plus tax,” he said. “We do it for $200. If we weren’t here, these soldiers wouldn’t be able to recreate during summer.”

One visitor, a sergeant on leave from Iraq, let his daughter decide what they would do during a day in Seward, Bartlett recalled.

“She said she wanted to go fishing,” he said. “She didn’t even like fish but she knew her dad wanted to go.”

The youngster ended up catching a halibut and gave it to her dad.

A special part of working at Seward is taking some of the last surviving World War II veterans fishing.

“We used to get a lot of them,” Bartlett said. “Some are in wheelchairs, but we figure out a way to get them on the boat.”

If a charter trip hasn’t sated a visitor’s fish-lust, they can walk two miles down the road to a nearby river that’s full of salmon in summer, Bartlett said.

When they get back to Seward, they can clean their catch on long tables inside a pair of giant sheds, then vacuum pack, freeze and FedEx it anywhere in the U.S.

“It’s not uncommon for us to FedEx a ton of fish in one day during summer,” Bartlett said.

Seward only has about 3,500 residents in winter, but the number swells to 45,000 in summer. It’s a cruise-ship port, and passengers can take a train to Anchorage.

Seward’s harbor is flanked by spectacular, snowcapped peaks. One is the site of a popular - and exhausting - foot race in summer.

Visitors can cross-country ski, ride snow mobiles to the foot of a glacier and check out seals, salmon, Alaskan king crabs and puffins at Seward’s SeaLife Center during winter.

Seward Military Resort has contracts with 20 tourism operators that offer everything from helicopter rides to fishing for king salmon on the Kenai and Russian rivers.

“Last year, we sold a million dollars of tickets for the tours in three months,” Bartlett said.

Hikers have access to hundreds of miles of trails around Seward, including the path to Exit Glacier, eight miles from the resort.

John Shannon, 57, of Wasilla, Alaska, a retired Air Force master sergeant, was at the lodge for weekend in February with his wife.

He heard about the facility when he was stationed in Alaska in the 1990s and he’s been there twice. The first time he went fishing, but he was planning to check out the SeaLife Center this winter.

“At this time of year, you are kind of limited in what you can do, but the scenery is great,” he said.

Half of Bartlett’s customers come from outside Alaska. People with access to “space A” travel can fly into Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson, about a two-hour drive from the resort along the scenic Seward Highway, which runs along the shore of the Turnagain Arm – an inlet discovered by legendary British explorer James Cook in the 19th Century.

It’s common for guests to book accommodation for the following year when they check out, Bartlett said.

“July is already booked, but there are still openings in June and August,” he said.

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If you go...

Directions
Seward is around two hours’ drive along the scenic Seward Highway from Anchorage.

Times
Seward Military Resort is open year-round but it’s busiest in summer.

Costs
Accommodation at the resort starts at $12 a day for a tent site. It also has 56 motel rooms, 40 RV sites, 12 six-bed townhouses and six Mongolian “yurt” frame tents. Prices vary by rank and season. The hotel rooms, for example, start at $86 a night in peak season for lower enlisted and $127 for senior officers and civilians.

Food
There are a variety of restaurants in Seward that serve local food such as halibut fish and chips. Dinner along with drinks costs about $40 including tax and tips.

For more information go to Seward Resort.

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robson.seth@stripes.com
Twitter: @SethRobson1