Eielson outdoor recreation: your ticket to Alaska summer adventures

A girl enjoys the view over Bear Lake behind the Outdoor Recreation office. Outdoor Recreation has equipment available for rent, in addition to amenities like the skeet and trap range, Birch Lake camping, the Iceman Falls Lodge, and picnic sites on base and in the Valdez Recreation area. There are also guided tours available for outdoor activities.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kirsten Wicker/Released)

A girl enjoys the view over Bear Lake behind the Outdoor Recreation office. Outdoor Recreation has equipment available for rent, in addition to amenities like the skeet and trap range, Birch Lake camping, the Iceman Falls Lodge, and picnic sites on base and in the Valdez Recreation area. There are also guided tours available for outdoor activities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kirsten Wicker/Released)

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- After a long Alaskan winter, warm weather and long days are finally in full swing.

Opportunities to get out and about are everywhere, but it can be confusing and overwhelming to decide what to do or where to go, given all the choices, prices and locations.

That's where Eielson's Outdoor Recreation activities and programs can help.

"It's all here and ready to go for our Airmen and their families to use," said Maj. Allyson Strickland, 354th Force Support Squadron operations officer and patron of Outdoor Recreation. "Right here on base, you have this resource you can use to borrow things at a reduced price rather than have to buy them and haul them around with you every time you move.

"And you might want to just try an activity like paddle boarding, without going out and spending money buying a brand new one, only to discover you tried it once and didn't enjoy it that much and now you're stuck with a paddle board you won't use."

New this summer, Outdoor Recreation offers brand new paddle boards for check-out at Bear Lake and Birch Lake, as well as a few brand new camper trailers equipped with cable TV and internet capability. Other equipment for check-out includes boats and boat trailers, kayaks, canoes, mountain boards, fishing rods, tents, mountain bikes and even four-wheelers.

"They also hold a training class for those interested in learning how to safely operate a four-wheeler or a boat," Strickland said. "So if you want to check one out, they can teach you (the state laws and) how to stay safe."

In addition to the various equipment types available for check-out, there are also amenities to take advantage of like the skeet and trap range, Birch Lake camping, the Iceman Falls Lodge, and picnic sites on base and in the Valdez Recreation area. There are also guided tours available for various outdoor activities.

"Most people stationed here at Eielson just want to get out and enjoy Alaska's great outdoors," said Sidney Hinch, 354th FSS Outdoor Recreation program manager. "That's why we offer Birch Lake Recreation area located 39 miles from the base or Valdez Recreation area which is about 340 miles from the base. The Bear Lake Family Camp is a nice place if you want to stay on base."

While some Airmen and their families may find location to be everything, there may be other things to consider when using Outdoor Recreation's equipment or facilities.

"One of the biggest conveniences of using a spot like Birch Lake is that it's only open to Defense Department ID card holders," said 2nd Lt. Shaina Thompson, 354th FSS Birch Lake program officer in charge. "So there is more a sense of the military community there, versus an area open to anyone."

Birch Lake now operates from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday to Sunday, with checkout by 11 a.m. Monday.

"For me, knowing that the location and the equipment offers a safe and well-maintained way to enjoy Alaska makes using Outdoor Recreation an added convenience," Strickland said. "Also, hotels are quite limited, especially in a small town like Valdez, so renting a nice camper trailer gives you an option for overnight stay."

Outdoor Recreation also offers classes and guided trips, giving participants instruction in skeet and trap shooting, fly tying, canoeing, camping and boating safety. Guided trips include ATV tours, hiking, fishing and Valdez excursions.

"We have eight trailers at Valdez, each with seven sleeping areas and fully equipped with Wi-Fi internet and cable TV," said Hinch. "They also come with pots and pans, cups, dishes, glasses, and eating utensils, but you will need to bring your own bed sheets and towels."

Outdoor Recreation has five u-drive boats, four 21-foot boats with a cuddy and one 20-foot boat, all located at Valdez. They are outfitted with emergency equipment, fishing nets, GAFF and harpoon, and fish finder and GPS technology.

The main office for Valdez is located in the Eagles Rest RV Park and interested parties can contact Outdoor Recreation for more information.

"The summer season is short here, so we encourage everyone to come out and use what we have to offer while the weather is nice, especially since all you would have to do is load it up," said Hinch. "The cabins, trailers and boats are all waiting for you when you arrive."

Outdoor Recreation closes summer activities and programs Sept. 2. Office hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday to Monday. Call 377-1232 for information or 377-1317 for reservations, or visit the Web site at http://www.eielsonforcesupport.com.