Usage is down at the U.S. Forest Service campground at Mendenhall Lake, but campers are happy with some recent improvements.
"They did a fantastic job on it," said James Dickerson, who was passing through Juneau with his wife, Janet, and whose full-time home is a recreational vehicle.
"The sites are about as level and user-friendly as any national and state parks we've been in. And of course we were real impressed to see the utilities," Dickerson said as he watched a sad little campfire flicker out in the damp weather.
The Forest Service has spent about $4 million to install toilets and showers, put in fill for RV parking and tent pads, and add utilities at the RV sites, said Marc Scholten, a forester in charge of developed recreation and cabins for the Juneau Ranger District.
The campground reopened in late June, after being closed since last August to finish the toilets and showers. It also was closed part of 1997 and all of the 1998 season for construction.
Still to come are improvements to the Skaters Cabin area, including enlarged and paved parking, an accessible ramp to the beach, and new toilets, fire rings and picnic tables.
But usage is down from past years, Scholten said. He attributes it to high gas prices, disruptions to the state ferry schedules, and competition from new private and city campgrounds.
Scholten said he hasn't added up how many people have stayed in the Mendenhall Campground this summer, but the occupancy rate is down from 49 percent last year.
The campground has 51 tent sites, nine RV sites with electricity and water, and nine RV sites with sewer, electricity and water.
Usage has averaged 32 sites a night, including about 10 RV spaces, said Joe and Edna Holbrook of Lillington, N.C., the campground's volunteer hosts.
The Holbrooks and their pound dog, Muttley, who maintains a constant harmless growl next to his bowl, are in their second year at Mendenhall Lake after spending the 1997 season at the Forest Service campground at Auke Village.
They've seen it all, from Floridians relentlessly searching the woods for bears to a Montana man who held his dog in his lap to protect it from a bear.
Locals use the campground on weekends.
"Makes you feel good to have families come out with their children and just enjoy the outdoors," Edna Holbrook said.
Most visitors stay two nights, the Holbrooks said. The campground caps stays at 14 days for the season.
The Dickersons spent five nights in Juneau one on the ferry dock, one at a private campground and three at Mendenhall Lake. They've been traveling through Canada and Alaska since June 1.
These are people who belong to the Escapees RV Club. Most of the year they live in a large RV. Their summer home is a pickup camper. Their mail is collected in Texas and re-mailed to them on the road. They are connoisseurs of camp sites.
"Everything is well-maintained" at Mendenhall Campground, James Dickerson said. "The hosts are very friendly. We just wish we could get the wood to burn."
The Dickersons appreciated the forested sites, well-spaced from each other.
"You have your privacy. That's very important," James said.
"I hate to sneeze and have people on both sides say, 'Bless you,'" Janet said.
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