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New lodge on Colt Island

A lunch break for cruising tourists, a place for locals

Posted: Thursday, June 27, 2002

If you took Four Seasons Marine and Tours' three-hour cruise and ended up stranded on Colt Island, you'd be in much better shape than Gilligan.

After three years of providing wildlife cruises to tourists in Juneau, the company has added a lunch stop at Orca Point Lodge, a newly-built day lodge on Colt Island, 11 miles southwest of Juneau in Stephens Passage.

"We do a 2 1/2-hour wildlife cruise, and stop at the lodge for a salmon lunch," said Tom Tougas, owner of Four Seasons Marine and Tours. "Then we get back on the boat and cruise. The total tour is four hours."

Four Seasons offers wildlife viewing and historical maritime cruise-tours of Stephens Passage and Lynn Canal, as well as custom charters for catered events.

The company provides Kennecott Greens Creek Mine employees daily boat transportation to and from the mine, and because the back-up boat sat in the harbor all day, the company decided to use it to give wildlife tours, Tougas said.

The 3,000-square-foot lodge with kitchen can be rented out to locals for events such as weddings and anniversaries.

Experience has taught Tougas that a day lodge is an attractive addition to the company's tours. He also owns Kenai Fjords Tours, a wildlife-cruise tour company in Seward.

"Passengers always wanted to get off the boat during water tours," Tougas said. "I thought, 'There must be something to this.' "

Tougas bought land on Fox Island, about 15 miles south of Seward at the mouth of Resurrection Bay, and built a day lodge there in 1995. He said the addition to the cruise was extremely successful, with 60,000 visitors to the lodge per year.

"Passengers loved it and it was a fixture to locals who wanted to rent the lodge," Tougas said. "Business was half and half, half tourism and half local events."

Kenai Fjords Tours also was able to provide passengers with better food service on land than on boats, and could create a comfortable environment for weather-weary passengers.

Tougas said that for four years he searched the Juneau area for property on which to build a day lodge. He finally found land on Colt Island and started construction Oct. 1, 2001.

"The lodge is 95 percent complete," Tougas said. "We started bringing small groups over to the island about a month ago."

Located on 8 1/2 acres, with a capacity of 150 people, Orca Point Lodge has two sewage treatment facilities and runs off two sound-insulated generators. A seven-person crew serves passengers salmon or chicken, salad, rice, corn on the cob and beverages.

"We usually do two trips to the lodge a day, depending on tourist traffic," Tougas said. "Our goal is 80 people per boat, and we're currently at 60 to 65."

Tougas said he expects the lodge to come to maturity in three years, after it has established a reputation.

Pam Hunt, caretaker and manager of Orca Point, has lived on Colt Island with her husband for 20 years. She said that while she was excited about the new lodge, many Colt Island residents were not.

"We first heard it was going to be a restaurant and locals didn't want it," Hunt said. "They're slowly changing their perspective."

Hunt said she acts as mediator between the lodge and locals, and the tour company is very low-key on the island because visitors only spend one hour at the lodge. The company is making an effort to help the island community by transporting residents to and from town.

"Boats carry supplies and locals back and forth," Hunt said. "They're getting in with the locals."

Tougas said the lodge gives customers more tour options. He said Four Seasons is the only boat-based tour company in town to offer a stop at a day lodge and therefore does not directly compete with other operators.

Carole Marshall, sales and marketing director of Four Seasons Marine and Tours, said she does not think the new lodge will hurt other tour operators.

"With every new product, market share is a factor," Marshall said. "That's just the nature of capitalism, and it probably causes a better experience for all visitors because everyone performs better. (The tour) fills a nice little niche that hadn't been filled."

Texan Pat Phillips chose Four Seasons because she wanted a water tour instead of a flight tour.

"It just sounded good," Phillips said. "We're from Texas, so anything with water is fine with us."

Diane Gula from Toronto, Canada, came to Alaska with her husband for their 30th wedding anniversary, and said the tour and lunch had everything she wanted.

"I wanted to go to Alaska for ages and ages," Gula said. "It was nice that the lodge didn't have a gift shop."

Kirk West from Charleston, S.C., was trying to get away from "tourist traps" and opted for the water tour.

"I wanted to get outside and see the animals," West said. "I love it, but they should extend the island stay to three hours."

A community open house will be held Friday. Four Seasons Marine can be reached at 790-6671.

Emily Wescott can be reached at ewescott@juneauempire.com.



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