Thinking about going somewhere this Memorial Day weekend? Here’s what you need to know, from road construction to coronavirus closures and restrictions:
As of Friday, the kickoff of Memorial Day weekend, a statewide order from Gov. Mike Dunleavy officially reopens Alaska’s economy, allowing bars, restaurants, retail shops and other businesses to operate without pandemic-related restrictions. But not all communities are following the timing of the mandate, and the lifting of business restrictions doesn’t mean travel is unrestricted.
A 14-day quarantine order remains in place for anyone entering Alaska from Outside, including returning residents.
Current state travel mandates allow for travel between communities, but state health officials have repeatedly emphasized the need to continue with coronavirus mitigation measures such as social distancing, wearing masks when in close contact with others in public places, and frequent handwashing to keep coronavirus case numbers low.
"It’s going to be up to the establishment and the individual,” Dunleavy said.
Seward Highway construction reprieve
There’s a lot of construction happening along the Seward Highway this summer — five projects in all. But good news: No lane closures or active construction is planned for the busy corridor south of Anchorage over the holiday.
“Almost all the projects will be shut down for Memorial Day weekend,” said Shannon McCarthy, an Alaska Department of Transportation spokeswoman. “We do that because we don’t want to impact traffic.”
An ongoing project between Miles 100 and 105 in the Bird Creek area — where uneven surfaces in the construction zone slowed traffic to a crawl during recent weekends — should be paved Thursday night, allowing for smoother driving for the weekend, McCarthy said.
Construction is planned for the O’Malley Road/Minnesota Drive interchange area in Anchorage over the weekend, however, McCarthy said.
Denali Highway reopens
To the north, the Denali Highway reopened Thursday from Cantwell, at the Parks Highway, to Paxson, at the Richardson Highway. Usually the road opens on May 15 but “heavy snow and wind” delayed the opening this year, according to DOT. Conditions are still rough, and drivers should bring food, water, extra gear and be prepared for a narrow road between Miles 42 and 60.
Chugach State Park is open — and busy
Chugach State Park is “basically open,” said superintendent Kurt Hensel — and the park is playing host to record crowds.
Parking lots, trailheads and campgrounds including the Bird Creek Campground, Eagle River Campground and Eklutna Campground are accessible to the public this week. Don’t expect to be alone.
“We are seeing record visitation up north in the Eklutna area as well as some of our busy trailheads,” said Hensel.
He attributes the boom in outdoor recreation to families with more flexible schedules with kids out of school and parents working from home or not working, combined with lockdown-induced cabin fever.
If you want to snag a campsite this weekend, “earlier is better,” he said. “Our sites are first-come, first-served.”
Visitors are responsible for following COVID-19 health mandates. Don’t expect campgrounds or cabins to provide hand sanitizer or other supplies, and be responsible about bear safety and fire safety, he said.
Alaska State Parks: Some campgrounds open, some not
Many Alaska State Parks campgrounds facilities beyond the Anchorage area are open or plan to open Friday. Some will not be open in time for the weekend. The best place to check the status of a specific campground or facility is the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation campground status page, which parks spokeswoman Wendy Sailors says is updated regularly. Alaska State Parks social media pages also post campground openings.
Chugach National Forest
Most, but not all, facilities are open, so it’s best to check ahead on the national forest’s website (fs.usda.gov/detail/chugach). Campgrounds are generally open, many with reservations available through .recreation.gov. The same goes for cabins. Bertha Creek, Black Bear, Coeur d’Alene and Primrose campgrounds are first-come, first-served. Begich, Boggs Visitor Center and the Crooked Creek Information Center are closed.
Seward: ‘Be good neighbors’
Seward is welcoming visitors, said Brenda Ballou, a city spokeswoman.
“We just ask people to be good neighbors when they come,” said Ballou.
The city is “very respectfully requesting (that visitors) wear masks, wash hands and maintain social distance.”
City campgrounds have closed every other spot to encourage social distancing, and reservations are available online. Shops and restaurants are opening. Over the past few weekends, an increasing number of visitors have been showing up, Ballou said. Private and charter boats are heading out from the harbor, and the Alaska SeaLife Center reopened to the public Wednesday.
Construction has blocked Lowell Point Road — which leads to a popular beach, vacation rentals, camping spots and trailheads — to outside traffic for periods of time this season, said Ballou. But the construction will be halted for Memorial Day weekend, so anybody who wants to access the area should be able to drive there.
The gate at Exit Glacier will be opened Friday, complete with public restroom access. Trails within the area, including the Harding Icefield trail, are open. Remember there are lots of brown and black bears in the area, and be self-reliant, the National Park Service says.
“Visitors are advised to bring hand sanitizer in the event that handwashing stations or toilet paper become unavailable,” park spokesman Jeremy Christian said in an email.
Denali National Park road open to Teklanika
Denali National Park and Preserve is open. Private vehicles can drive as far as the Teklanika Rest Stop at Mile 30. The Riley Creek Campground will be open Friday. Other campgrounds, such as the Savage Creek, Sanctuary, Teklanika, and Igloo Creek campgrounds, aren’t scheduled to open until dates in June and July. The Visitors Center won’t open until July 1, according to the National Park Service.
Hope: Open, with reservations
The small Turnagain Arm community of Hope will be open to campers.
RVers “must make reservations via phone before arriving to hope,” the Seaview says. “RVs may consist of household members only.”
Social distancing is required, the Seaview Cafe said on its website.
Wrangell-St. Elias encourages socially distant hiking
Several trails within the sprawling Wrangell St. Elias National Park and Preserve are also opening Friday: Erie Mine Trail, Root Glacier Trail, Bonanza Mine Trail and Jumbo Mine Trail. The National Park Service says it is removing brush from “key locations along the trails to provide areas where hikers can pass each other while maintaining social distancing” as well as placing signage to “help people avoid passing one another in very tight areas,” the park said in a statement.
Homer: Fishing, restaurants and shops
Homer would also be pleased to have your company, according to the city’s Chamber of Commerce.
Many restaurants, shops and other businesses are open, including on the Homer Spit, and hotels, bed and breakfasts and RV parks are operating under social distancing guidelines, said Jan Knutson, the manager of the Homer Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center.
The first king salmon has been caught in the fishing lagoon — by Knutson’s husband — and fishing charters are happening too, she said. While finding lodging on summer weekends in Homer can be a challenge, it shouldn’t be right now, she said.
The community has already seen a growing stream of visitors from other parts of Alaska, she said. People have been calling “for six weeks to ask when the RV parks are opening up,” according to Knutson.
As always, be careful and responsible and follow social distancing mandates, Knutson said. Face coverings are “highly suggested” for visitors.
“This is a very conscientious community,” Knutson said.
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