Story and Photos
By Dan Davidson
Sitting in the office of the Beaver Creek RV Park, with Beat Ledergerber and his wife Jyl Wingert, it’s easy to reflect on the many changes that have occurred in Beaver Creek since the three years that my wife and I spent here in the late 1970s. For one thing, we’re sitting in what used to be the Canada Customs depot, which used to be located directly across the road from where it now sits. New comers to town had to clear Customs to get gas until the agents got to know what your car looked like.
The border station is now located just outside town on the way to Alaska, but the staff still live in town. There are more of them, and they have some impressive looking homes in a cul de sac located behind the ones they used to live in.
The biggest change in this village of around 100 people isn’t the brand new $3.15 million fire and EMS station that is currently under construction after some difficulties with the original tendering.
No, the biggest change is that Holland/America, whose 174 room Westmark Inn complex came close to doubling the population of the town every summer for decades, is gone. The sleek motor coaches no longer travel the north Alaska Highway, and hotel operations have ended in both Beaver Creek and Tok, Alaska.
Beaver Creek is a little better off than Tok, though. The Tok Westmark is just collecting road dust at the junction. The Beaver Creek complex has been sold to Ledergerber and Wingert and they are slowly adjusting the place to a size they can use.
Beat Ledergerber, who arrived in Canada’s Most Westerly Community in 1961, has run a sawmill and a garage in his time, and started doing work on the buildings that eventually became the Alas/kon Border Lodge and then the Westmark Lodge back as far as when the original building was privately owned by Clyde and Helen Wann. His sawmill supplied much of the lumber that built the rest of the buildings in the compound. He was on-call for maintenance and other issues for years through a couple of different owners and was the full time property manager after 1982.
“’Try it for a summer,’ they said to me. ‘We’ll pay you year ‘round’ and they made me a good deal,” he recalls.
Jyl Wingert arrived in 2001 and held a variety of administrative positions in the hotel for a number of years, including front desk and controller. When she and Ledergerber got together the senior management put her in charge of the RV park portion of the operation and she ran that for the last eight years.
She says they got the complex’s death sentence from the Princess Tours people running the hotel side of the operation on April 19, 2003. Both of them agree that they had seen it coming for a while. At its peak the lodge had employed over 80 people, housing them in a two story motel-like complex at the east end of the compound. In recent years the staff complement had declined to 45 or 50 and the budget for maintenance and upgrading had been thinner.
“We were open then,” Beat recalls. “We were sitting in the main dining room and the guy (from Princess Tours) said “I guess you know now.’ We said ‘Know what?” and he said, ‘We’re gonna close the place down – here and Tok.’”
That meant everything, including the excellent “Rendezvous” road show in the dinner theatre roundhouse at the back of the compound.
“Nobody could believe it in the town here and along the highway,” he said, recalling the shock of the announcement.
The company seemed to be undecided about what to do with the property and so Beat and Jyl put in a bid and were accepted. They actually would have preferred to buy just the RV park at the time, but the company wouldn’t split up the property. They had a good combination of practical and administrative experience with the operation. It took some time to finalize the deal and it wasn’t really all in place until June of this year, but the couple got the go ahead to begin operations in May, even before the final papers were signed.
The new owners knew they needed that early part of the season to have a good year.
“That’s when the people come up to Alaska from the south,” Beat said. “This is the natural first stop along the way.”
That meant there was no hope of getting any advertising out for this year, but that was okay because there was some work to be done. The RV park was able to run smoothly as soon as the season opened, but there was work to be done at the rest of the compound. The entire facility had been plumbed to run in a circuit. In order to open just some parts of it Beat had to rework the water and sewer arrangements.
This summer the 65 room building Westmark had called the Bear’s Den was partially open, with 32 rooms available for the travelling public. Over time the couple hope to attract enough customers to open the entire building and eventually the main lodge, though they aren’t sure about reviving the restaurant.
“We knew our first year (without advance advertising) was going to be rough,” Jyl said. “It’s all been word of mouth, but it’s been better than we expected. We’re in good shape.”
The RV park is the main moneymaker at the moment, offering some knick-knacks, gasoline and some supplies.
“The road actually has helped our business this year,” she adds, “because they’re tired after that they are just ready to stop at the first place they see, and that’s us.”
Two bus tours have stopped, both from companies that were accustomed to stopping there in the part. The African Children’s Choir filled some rooms just a few days before this interview.
“We’ve had a lot of interest from ones that used to stay with us,” Jyl said, “that find going from Whitehorse to Tok in one day is just too far for comfort.”
“This is beautiful,” Beat said. “Between Fairbanks and Whitehorse this is the middle and that’s what they like.”
They have their promotional material ready for next year and are optimistic about their future.