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Katmai National Park may be in for a big year of visitors, as Brooks Camp opens at full capacity

Katmai bear. Aug. 17, 29
Izzy Ross
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A brown bear at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park & Preserve. Aug. 17, 2019.

The Brooks Camp at Katmai National Park and Preserve will operate at 100% capacity this season for the first time since the pandemic began.

Tourists from around the world travel to Katmai in eastern Bristol Bay, which is famous for its bear viewing, especially by the iconic Brooks Falls. There, people can stand yards away from huge brown bears that sit on top of the falls and swim in the river, snatching salmon that jump from the fast-flowing water.

The pandemic slowed down human activity there in 2020. Park Superintendent Mark Sturm said visitation was down about 40% from normal.

“That completely changed in 2021,” he said. “And even though we had some reduced operational capacities and certain aspects of our campground and other areas of the park, we set a record and actually had had more visitation than we've ever had before. And we expect to see another high level of visitation this year.” 

Sturm said one measurement for visitation levels is the number of people who attend the required Brooks Camp bear orientations, which tell people how to stay safe around 1000-pound apex predators.

“Last year, our number was above 20,000,

People at a viewing platform at Brooks Falls. Aug. 17, 2019.
Izzy Ross
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People at a viewing platform at Brooks Falls. Aug. 17, 2019.

which is a big number for those trainings," he said. "And so, you know, I guess that's a metric that gives us an indication as to how busy we are in comparison to other years.” 

The park had been running its campsites at half capacity over coronavirus concerns. But with COVID-19 vaccines and treatments now available, Sturm said park officials are comfortable dialing back precautions.

“At this stage of the game, we feel confident that we can open up 100%,” he said.

Even with fewer visitors staying in the park, Sturm said there has only been a modest impact to revenue from campgrounds. Still, the road to reopening fully has been long, and looking back over the past two years, he said adjusting to COVID was a challenge. While park officials plan to open the campground fully, Sturm acknowledged that things can change quickly. He encouraged visitors planning trips to keep an eye on the park’s website and check guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on COVID-19 measures.

“Make sure that you understand what the requirements of the park are currently," he said. "There is still a pandemic going on, things did change on us with the omicron variant kind of resurfacing and causing us to adjust along the way, so something could happen. So just check the parks website for alerts. Hopefully, we'll see you around this summer and look forward to seeing you.”

The campground can hold up to 60 people a day at full capacity. Groups are limited to six people.

Camping permits go on sale at 8 a.m. on March 21. The permits cost $12 per person for each night of camping from June 1 through Sept. 17. Permits for fall camping, from Sept. 18 - Oct. 31, cost $6 per person for each night. Visitors are limited to seven nights of camping in July, and 14 nights each year.

To purchase camping permits, go to www.recreation.gov.

Brown bear at Brooks Falls. Aug. 17, 2019.
Izzy Ross
/
A brown bear catches a sockeye salmon at Brooks Falls. Aug. 17, 2019

Contact the author at izzy@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200.

Izzy Ross is the news director at KDLG, the NPR member station in Dillingham. She reports, edits, and hosts stories from around the Bristol Bay region, and collaborates with other radio stations across the state.
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