Squatters' campground being shunned

Bargain-hunters, not homeless, using sites at Thane Road facility

Posted: Sunday, July 09, 2000

The $5-a-night Thane Road campground opened a year ago to draw squatters away from their digs on private land and elsewhere. That's not happening.

At 8:30 a.m. Thursday, two of the 25 campsites at the campground were occupied -- one by a local camper, the other by an out-of-state visitor.

``That's our kind of clientele, econo-travelers who want to see Alaska and have their own itinerary and time frame,'' said volunteer campground host Jason Layton.

But the facility was built to accommodate very low income, homeless people, as well as campers, said St. Vincent de Paul General Manager Dan Austin on the occasion of the campground's debut last year.

``Attendance has been pretty steady this year, averaging six campers a day since the opening in the middle of May,'' Austin said Thursday. ``Receipts are about three times what they were last year -- about $500 this year so far.''

The campground is on Thane Road a half mile past the Princess dock and a couple of hundred yards past a do-not-stop, avalanche-warning road sign.

And therein lies a rub, according to Glory Hole Executive Director Joan Decker.

``The Glory Hole people are not using the campground because it means they're going to have to move their belongings once winter sets in,'' Decker said. ``Because of the avalanche path.''

People who have moved into Juneau to look for work and others who can't afford to rent housing have chosen instead to squat in the uplands elsewhere off Thane Road and behind Fred Meyer, Decker said. Others are making deals with landowners for squatters' rights in exchange for work.

``I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we might find a piece of land away from an avalanche path,'' she said.

There have been improvements to the campground this year, according to host Layton. They include lockboxes for residents' gear and food, additional picnic tables, a generator for lighting in the picnic area and a wood-frame pavilion topped with canvas to keep picnickers out of the rain.

In addition, Layton has lugged gravel up the hillside to the site in order to dry out muddy spots in and around the campground.

Layton likes to try to keep some order at the campground as well, he said.

``Sometimes it's a challenge for some transients,'' he said. ``I've made it known that I'm not a babysitter and I don't want to be a flophouse, which has caused some to move on.''

One transient stayed a month and when asked to pay $25 -- five days' worth of fees -- also moved on.

The newly-minted city ordinance that bans camping anywhere or on roadsides or on city property where there aren't signs allowing it doesn't seem to have directed any transients to the campsite, Layton said.

It's too early to tell how well the ordinance will work, said Juneau Assembly member Jim Powell.

The signeage hasn't been installed yet, he said, and some places where campers have squatted on city land is next to state rights-of-way.

There will have to be coordination with state authorities, he said.

St. Vincent de Paul's Austin said he is optimistic the Thane Road campground will turn a profit this year and that next year there will be money for a more professional brochure advertising the site than is currently being distributed to the ferry terminal in Juneau and to chambers of commerce and convention and visitors bureaus throughout Southeast.

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