Story by DEBRA McKINNEY Photos by PAUL MORLEY
Anchorage Daily News
Published: March 4, 2007
COZY IN CABIN 4
We reserved a cabin at Bowman's Bear Creek Lodge because the last time we passed through here off-season, we were charmed by the place and most impressed with our lunch, a house specialty called the Big Beautiful Salad, which really is both of these things. And owners Kent and Melanie Bowman, who met fishing and got married seven years ago in hip waders standing in Kenai Lake, are our kind of people, the kind of innkeepers who make you feel like old friends.
Hope old-timer Peck Hassler, who offers gold-panning lessons in the summer, stops for coffee at Bowman's Bear Creek Lodge every day. The dumbest question tourists ask him? "What color is gold?" he says. The town was founded during an 1890s gold rush.
When the school's hot lunch program got dropped, they started providing free lunches for kids and staff one day a week. Plus, Kent plays the saxophone and Melanie tells hilarious stories about things like the foofy shoe collection she had before moving here from the Bay Area in 1995.
We checked into Cabin No. 4, where Kent had the wood stove already crackling. This is the oldest of the five rental cabins, built of hand-hewn logs muscled into place with the help of draft horses. We set down our gear, stopped at the bathhouse to wash up, then headed over to the cafe for dinner -- a pile of yam fries with maple-chipotle dipping sauce for starters, followed by dinners of prime rib and pecan-crusted Alaska cod that were so good we wished we could eat more. If only we had four stomachs like a cow.
This lodge wasn't always so inviting. After the Bowmans bought it in 2003, they did a lot of sprucing up.
They learned their innkeeping ways after several years of ridiculously long hours running lodges in Cooper Landing. So by the time they took on this place of their own, they knew that if they weren't having fun, nobody else would either.
They limit their hours during the off-season to Thursday through Sunday. And to liven things up, they started throwing a Hawaiian luau in the dead of winter, with an island-style menu, leis, cheesy decorations and a blow-up palm tree.
They added horse-drawn sleigh rides and a fancy, four-course champagne dinner on Valentine's Day, giving folks the chance to dress up in mid-February, which, Kent says, means "clean shirt."
Confession: When we checked in that Saturday evening, a day that began at 18 below, we wern't sure we'd find enogh to do on Sunday. We did.
And they revived a community tradition that had gone by the wayside by hosting the Ya' Gotta Regatta on the Fourth of July. The whole town is invited and encouraged to bring whatever they have that floats -- canoes, kayaks, rafts -- to put in the pond in the lodge's front yard. It's wild and crazy, and the whole thing degenerates into a giant water fight, Kent says.
It's this kind of small-town fun that keeps people coming back to Hope. And it doesn't hurt that there are cozy places to stay, good people to meet and a whole lot of history.
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