Alaska couple plans 'dome' lodging near Talkeetna riverfront
A longtime Talkeetna family is working on a project to bring a unique kind of lodging to the tourist town.
Robert and Marne Sheldon want to create the Talkeetna Base Camp in a wooded area near downtown with 10 “domes” similar to the ones they use at their Borealis Base Camp near Fairbanks.
Think of them as futuristic cabins with a giant, 12-foot window. Instead of the white color of the ones up north, the Talkeetna domes would match the trees in the forest.
“It is more of a hotel-esque feel because you’ve got the running water and a toilet and a shower and all the amenities you’d have in a regular hotel room,” Marne said.
The Alaska Railroad approved a five-year lease for the Sheldons' company — officially named Nordlys, LLC — to manage an 8.3-acre parcel of land near downtown.
The Matanuska-Susitna Borough approved Talkeetna’s Riverfront Plan in 2004. The community outlined improvements and development they’d like to see in the area, like non-motorized traffic and more trails.
Part of the plan called for areas to camp, which is illegal on the railroad property right now. Robert said he wanted to give people options for overnight lodging.
“We’ll have some tented platforms for families that may not want to be in a dome environment that they can either bring their own tents or in the wintertime we'll provide arctic-ready tents,” Robert said.
He said it's an effort to expand tourism to the winter months when the northern lights are a draw. A report by McDowell Group for the State Division of Economic Development and the Alaska Travel Industry Association shows Talkeetna had an estimated 239,000 visitors in the 2016 summer season.
“As it stands now, most families who are involved in tourism have 120 days to make most of their earnings then take odd jobs throughout the winter. This gives more sustainable-type jobs year-round so folks don’t have to leave town,” Robert said.
Not everyone is on board with the project. Several residents expressed concerns about the proposed camping area. One woman said she was skeptical the Sheldons would be able to have the development without removing trees or putting up fencing to create privacy.
Marne assures they want to preserve the natural beauty of the area and make sure the public still has access to the waterfront, as well as the iconic view of Denali that draws people in.
“I think one of their biggest concerns are not wanting to be locked out of one of their favorite places. There were questions like, ‘Are you going to put up a big fence?’ and ‘We’re never going to have access again.’” Marne said. “I don’t know how many which ways to Sunday to say there’s no big fence coming in. You will have access to all of this that you've loved for years. And we’re going to do it together.”
Robert said the dome lodging is meant to tap into the mid-market price range, with the structures renting for $200 to $350 a night. A night at a dome at their Borealis Base Camp near Fairbanks goes for $599 a night.
The Sheldons plan to host community meetings to get input from locals about how they would like to see the project go forward.
Even though the project is still in the permitting process, the couple hopes to break ground this summer.
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