‘What the heck?’: Discover Alaska Adventure Park, Seward’s newest family destination

SPONSORED: Locals say the outdoor park offers a new way to experience the vibrant coastal town.

Presented by Seward Hospitality Group

In May, Alaska’s first aerial park opened in Seward. The thrilling obstacle course, reaching heights of up to 45 feet and accommodating all skill levels, is a key attraction at the newly opened Alaska Adventure Park.

However, one of the most unique highlights at Alaska Adventure Park is an activity known as “zorbing” — from the Seward Highway, guests can be seen frolicking on top of Preacher’s Pond inside giant, transparent plastic balls.

“That’s one of the main things that people are coming in for right now,” said Corey Harrison, adventure park operator. “They see that, and they’re like, ‘what the heck?’”

Both zorbing and the aerial course have rapidly become the most popular activities at Alaska Adventure Park, Seward’s newest outdoor attraction for families and adventurers of all ages. The park aims to foster community growth by providing a recreational space for everyone. Locals say it’s an important addition to the small town, especially for youth and families.

The park sits on a 34-acre property owned by Seward Hospitality Group. Its amenities span a wide range and include a mountain bike speed track, mud run course, kayak and paddleboard rentals and slacklining. Disc golf and yard games, like cornhole and badminton, offer more laid-back options for visitors. Additionally, a playground for kids under six years old ensures even small children have fun options.

“It gives a lot of variety of activities for people to do,” Harrison said.

The park is still adding new activities to its lineup. Soon it plans to add axe throwing and side-by-side ATV tours. Seward Hospitality Group is also laying the groundwork for an RV park, campsites, and a full brew pub set to open next summer.

Aerial Park Manager Morgan Shepard says the park is a place families can enjoy each other’s company, participate in physical exercise and bask in Alaska’s scenery, without breaking the bank.

“If families want to come out, hang out with each other and be outside, and not have to spend a ton of money — that’s what our facility is here to do,” Shepard said.

Shepard has more than 20 years of experience in Alaska’s outdoor recreation industry. He previously managed Denali Zipline Tours and relocated from Talkeetna to Seward three years ago.

At Alaska Adventure Park, Shepard started with a blank slate and has been given free rein to invest in activities that visitors will enjoy.

“That’s the dream I was looking to find,” he said.

“I’ve got a heart for kids and playing outside,” Shepard said. “I’ve seen kids transform doing this kind of stuff.”

Exploring new heights at Alaska aerial park

Mary Withrow, an aerial operator at the park, was raised in Seward. The town of roughly 2,600 residents boasts world-class fishing and kayaking, stunning scenery, and access to Harding Icefield and Exit Glacier within Kenai Fjords National Park.

Yet in some ways, Seward’s outdoor opportunities are limited, especially for youth, Withrow said. The park gives people of all ages and abilities new ways to spend time together in the community.

“It’s fun to explore and see how much you’re able to do,” Withrow said. “I’m very glad to have a park like this for everyone.”

The aerial course is one of her favorite aspects of the park. “It’s unreal and so much fun. I’ve never done anything like that before,” she said.

When individuals first try the aerial course, they attend a “ground school” that includes demonstrations and practice, Withrow said. Afterwards, participants head up to the course starting point. Most people choose the easiest course initially.

“We build on the experience, little by little,” Shepard said. That helps visitors build confidence on the course.

The aerial park’s rope course is elevated 20 to 45 feet off the ground. It consists of four levels, ranging from novice to “adrenaline junkie,” Shepard said. Each level has 12 elements designed to work various muscle groups. Completing the full course can take anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours.

“Afterwards you just feel so proud of yourself for accomplishing things that you didn’t even realize your body can do,” Withrow said.

Visiting schools, sports groups and families love the aerial park. “For a kid, it looks huge. It’s like a giant castle,” Shepard said.

Despite its obvious appeal to youth, the park truly caters to everyone. Guests create their own goals, a concept Shepard calls “challenge by choice,” ensuring there’s no pressure to overexert themselves.

Creating something new: ‘I want to see what kind of impact we can have’

Alaska Adventure Park was dreamed up by Elliot Jackson, CEO of Seward Hospitality Group. The organization owns six local restaurants and four lodging establishments, including the historic Van Gilder Hotel, and Puffin Fishing Charters.

Jackson, 53, was born and raised in Anchorage before moving to Homer, and later Seward. He is deeply rooted in Alaska’s community and the hospitality industry. At the age of 16, Jackson began his career at his aunt’s popular establishment, Taco Dan’s, the third-oldest food vendor at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer. He went on to purchase the restaurant.

Jackson continued to manage Taco Dan’s while investing in other ventures in Southcentral Alaska. One day while setting up his Taco Dan’s concession trailer in Seward, he approached the owner of the bustling Railway Cantina. He offered to purchase the restaurant if it was ever for sale. Eventually, the retiring owner did reach out, and Jackson bought the restaurant.

As other Seward business owners began to retire, Jackson acquired their businesses under the umbrella of Seward Hospitality Group, continuing their local legacy.

Unlike his other ventures, which were acquired as turn-key operations, Alaska Adventure Park presents a unique business challenge, Jackson said.

“The fun part about the park and the brewery is it’s something we’re building from scratch,” Jackson said.

Since it fully opened at the end of May, the park has welcomed a mix of both Alaska residents and out-of-state visitors, including those arriving on cruise ships. Some guests are seasoned aerial park enthusiasts and want to experience Alaska’s version of rope courses.

“Part of our mission is to enable people to enjoy Alaska’s beauty,” said Sean Ritz, Seward Hospitality Group’s marketing director. “We want the community to enjoy the great outdoors while also partaking in an active, healthy lifestyle.”

“We’ve already had a couple of schools come through and just seeing the kids have so much fun on the courses just really makes it all worth it,” Ritz said.

One feature of the park that Withrow particularly enjoys is the kayak rentals on Preacher’s Pond.

“I just love it. It’s beautiful, 360-degree views of just incredible mountains. The pond is crystal clear. So, it’s just super fun to be out on the pond kayaking around,” Withrow said.

Local youth are also contributing to the park’s evolution; for instance, one local teen started an RC Boat club, using Preacher’s Pond as the club’s meeting location.

“It’s really cool to see that even since we started, there’s a local group of kids using our pond to do some more outdoor activities,” Shepard said.

For Shepard, it’s about building a space to benefit everyone.

“I want to see what kind of positive impact we can have on our community, Anchorage, and Alaska,” Shepard said.

Seward Hospitality Group’s mission is to offer a welcoming environment for those seeking to explore the beauty of Alaska, while treating employees, guests, and friends like family.

This article was produced by the sponsored content department of Anchorage Daily News in collaboration with Seward Hospitality Group. The ADN newsroom was not involved in its production.