Hosts at state parks relish the experience

Danelle Landis

KETCHIKAN -- Daisy takes her role as Alaska State Parks host seriously.

With a gentle wag of her plush Saint Bernard tail, she welcomes visitors to the Settlers Cove host cabin from its deck.

Daisy and her owner, Bruce Reid, are more than a month into their roles as park hosts, and Reid's wife, Kate, is slated to fly in and join them.

Reid said they never have hosted before, but his father, a retired Wildlife and Parks Ranger, had hosted for a couple of years in Colorado, where Reid grew up.

Reid, a sociologist who has been teaching at Columbia Gorge Community College in The Dalles, Ore., said he has been enjoying the quiet, wilderness setting.

"So far, I'm kind of liking everything," he said. "It's work, yes ... but enjoyable."

Reid said the Settlers Cove campground is busy even on weekdays. On weekends, it usually is about 75 percent full, and many of those campers are locals.

He said he keeps busy with chopping firewood for guests, checking that the toilets are in working order and taking care of light trail maintenance such as repairing hand rails, picking up trash and replacing worn stair treads.

Reid said one thing he really enjoys is watching the wildlife at the park.

"Every day I never know what's going to crawl out of the trees," he said.

He sees two black bears regularly which he has named "Bruno" and "John Candy Barebutt III" in honor of the movie bear that has the fuzz shot off its rump.

He said one thing that has dismayed him a bit is that the locals seem to take their stunning wilderness surroundings for granted. Sawing a tree down for firewood, which is not allowed in a state park, seems completely natural for some local visitors, he said.

He said his feelings about the wilderness are deeply held.

"It's spiritual for me. It's truly my religion," he said. "Whenever I need to be rejuvenated, I hit the trail. I fish. Looking at microscopic animals, or a bear -- I absorb it.

"Every day I wake up and it's something new," he said.

He said his blood pressure -- "figuratively" -- has dropped since arriving at his little cabin in the woods with Daisy. He and Daisy hike along the Lunch Creek trail nearly every morning, and he said he has enjoyed exploring many places in the area, indulging in his photography hobby. He also plans to check out some fishing spots soon.

"I absolutely love fly fishing," he said.

He told his wife, Kate, who was a bit overwhelmed as she prepared to spend the summer with him, that her stress all would "wash away" after a few days at the park.

He said she has been planning to use her time this summer to write up the results of teaching research she has been compiling.

At Totem Bight State Historical Park, host Nancy Meitle greets visitors with a broad grin and the knowledge of a 30-year veteran science teacher.

This is Meitle's fourth year as an Alaska State Parks host. She also has hosted at Kodiak and Denali, and has a habit of adventuring in search of new things.

"It's fun to see different things," she said.

In 1982, she rode her bicycle from Anchorage to Fairbanks, then south to California for a Pacific Northwest Mental Health Association fundraiser. She said she had felt frustrated that she just didn't have time to "see everything," so she promised herself she would return for another bicycle tour in 10 years.

She kept that vow, but on the second trip, she was accompanied by her husband, Chuck; her 3-year-old daughter, Melissa; and her 10-year-old grandson, David. They returned to their home in Corvallis, Ore., also, instead of California. She said it was so much fun, the family has bicycled all over Alaska every year since.

She said they have followed both the road and ferry systems for a new adventure every time. This past year, she and her daughter repeated the Anchorage-to- Oregon bicycle tour together, taking about two months for that trip.

Recently, Meitle said her daughter, now 23 and working to become a park ranger, accepted a parks host position in Denali, and Meitle accepted a second host position not far down the road.

Ketchikan District Parks Ranger Mary Kowalczyk said that hosts are the "eyes and ears of the park -- my representatives."

Unlike the Reids, who stay in the Settlers' Cove cabin, Meitle stays in her trailer at Totem Bight.

"Visitors are envious of my little Airstream and my little beach," Meitle said.

The question visitors ask the most often is how she became a host, and she tells them she simply went online to to find the volunteer position information.

Ketchikan Daily News