City of Seward, Featured, Outdoors, Parks & Rec.

Why Seward Has a Waterfront Campground & How It Works

Seward’s Waterfront Campground provides necessary infrastructure, such as electricity, dumpsters and picnic tables

The first time we came to Seward, we camped in a small backpacking tent at the Seward Waterfront Park and Campground. It was October 2015, chilly and the rain fell continuously throughout the night. The next day, we found ourselves lucky in that the quarter-operated showers were still on for the season. The air was cold but the hot water warmed our cores and we went on to have a lovely day of hiking up Mount Marathon, our wet tent stuffed into a plastic bag until we could find a place to dry it. While in the campground, we watched a pod of humpback whales surfacing in the bay, and we delighted in the presence of sea otters and seals. We had lived previously in Seattle, another place with marine mammals, but the concentration of marine life enamored us with Seward. Thus began my fascination with the City campground, a huge swath of public land circling two sides of our small town. I was amazed at the town’s choice to make this land open and accessible to visitors and locals alike.

The winter section of Seward’s campground, looking north across all three sections of “Resurrection” sections

The next spring, we came back through Seward for a few weeks. We had bought our little house and were moving our furniture and belongings here, from a storage unit in Seattle. One night, we were invited to a social campfire gathering at one of the campground’s fire rings, located just ten feet above rising Resurrection Bay lapping at the rocks below. The night was chilly, the fire necessary to keep us warm enough to stand around outside in the cathedral that is Seward’s waterfront. In the tent-only section of the campground, located south of where we were socializing, there was a grouping of a few dome tents, with people milling about and cooking their evening meal. I became increasingly curious about this juxtaposing of visitor and local users. The whole idea of having a city campground, on prime real estate, was new to me, having grown up in north Florida and then residing in large west coast cities for most of my adult life. In Florida, there tends to be physical distance between campgrounds and towns, and in Seattle, the urban area doesn’t have campgrounds. In Alaska, town campgrounds are fairly common, even so, Seward is unique in its centrality and its history. I am indebted to Donna Glazer and Dwayne Atwood, of Seward’s Community Development for helping me piece together Seward’s campground history.

Historical photo of Seward’s Waterfront on display at AVTEC’s main building on 2nd Avenue

The story of how Seward Waterfront Park and Campground came to be begins with a tremendous disaster. As many people know, a huge earthquake struck this region of Alaska on Good Friday, 1964, hitting Seward with a 9.2 magnitude earthquake. The immediate effect was to destroy much of Seward and set huge fires along the waterfront. In addition, the shoreline dropped into the bay, carrying with it the railroad tracks that used to terminate at the south end of town, in the historic railroad depot that has since become Zudy’s Cafe. In the ensuing years, the Urban Renewal program was responsible for reclaiming the new waterfront land for City ownership. The railroad terminus was relocated to the north end of the bay, its current location. The 40 foot tsunami that hit Seward, following the earthquake, demonstrated that the waterfront was not suitable for homes or businesses. Instead, the land became available to use as park land, and as a campground, as campers could quickly evacuate given our current warning system.

Picnic tables bunched together in preparation of winter snowfall, picture taken in November 2016

Advertisement

In the early years, the campground was heavily used during the two summer fishing derbies, Silver Salmon and Halibut, as well as surrounding the Fourth of July. The rest of the summer, there were fewer campers. The area was not delineated into distinct camping spots, and it was managed by a private contractor. In 1989 this changed, as the City decided to self-manage the campground, believing that there was money to be made and that the campground should be a community resource. Over the following decade, revenues climbed, and those monies allowed for greater improvements. In 1996, site markers were put up and an enforcement team was hired to combat crowding and rowdiness. The current bathroom and shower house was built. In the mid 2000s, community members built the Waterfront Playground on the southeast corner of town, on land donated by the city and equipment paid for by a grant from the Seward Community Foundation.

Historic Iditarod trail begins near the current Parks Playground and Skate Park, all part of Seward’s public waterfront

The Campground continues to be run by the City Parks and Recreation Department, with Director Karin Sturdy at the helm. The fee structure has evolved over the years, with a current seasonal nature to its rates, ranging from $10 in the winter to $40 at the peak of summer. According to Sturdy, 90% of campers bring RV’s, most coming from Anchorage in rental’s. The campers provide an economic impact to our area by purchasing food, excursions and paying camping fees. Sturdy says that she is “really proud of the changes that we’ve made over the years.”

The shoulder seasons keep increasing in usage, which provides both revenue as well as expenses. The campgrounds mostly shut down in the winter, with water being turned off in the fall, dependent on temperatures. The goal is to have the campgrounds fully open in the spring by April 15th, but this open date is also dependent on weather conditions. This winter, each month has seen a few campers down along the waterfront. According to Sturdy, it is necessary for the city to plow the west-east streets, especially Jefferson, Madison and Monroe, all the way out to the bay, in order to prevent flooding when temperatures rise and snow melts. This plowing structure and the location of the port a potty determines the portion of the campground to keep open for winter usage.

Summer bathhouse with coin operated showers, pit toilet for winter usage in front

This winter Seward has seen abundant snow. The Waterfront Park and Campground are buried under the recent snow, but in the coming days, the City will plow the waterfront park, and winter residents will resume walking along the bay, enjoying the campground in its quiet state, until our spring and summer visitors begin to trickle into town. With the closure of the Army Recreation Camp, the City Campground has seen record numbers and will likely do so again this summer. The Waterfront Park continues the historical drawing of locals and visitors into our core downtown area. The otters, seals and occasional whales that play in the waters visible from the walking path will continue to delight both visitor and locals. More information about the Campground can be found at: http://www.cityofseward.us

Advertisement

Comments

Please review our comment policy. Select one of the three options below to comment.

Leave a Comment