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Roadtrippin’: Rustic Hatcher Pass Lodge

Updated: Jun. 12, 2021 at 10:53 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - It all started with a hammer in his hand and the desire to find work that led Hatcher Pass Lodge Manager Jeff Polk to where he is today.

“Hap says ‘I’ve got a few things to do in the cabin over there do you mind pounding a few nails for me,’” Polk said. “So, I went over there did some work and did it to another cabin and he says ‘can you work on vehicles?’ I went over there and got his vehicle going that hadn’t started in months and he says ‘do you want a job?’ I said sure and I’ve been here ever since and never left.”

Nearly eight months after the death of founder Karl “Hap” Wurlitzer, Polk was ready to continue his legacy.

“When I got to turn the key and open this place up, I was pretty proud of the fact that the community came together to help me,” Polk said. “They showed up here and helped this place all along and really stepped up when I opened up again.”

That legacy is really brought to life the moment you walk through the doors of the lodge. A family atmosphere immediately engulfs you. The laughter that echoes off the walls from stories of days gone by and even live music dancing through the air and into your ears.

This night, we’re graced with the musical talent of Braided River, a local Palmer band rooted in blues and rock. It just so happens the bass player of the band also created a new beer you can get on tap right at the cafe.

“I would like to keep everything similar,” Polk said. “I like the old-fashioned effect that we have here. You know nothing really too new. I do want to refurbish some things.”

That old-fashioned history can be found nailed to the walls of the lodge, like a timeline through the life of Hap and the founding of the lodge.

For just $10 back in 1963, Hap staked his claim on 10 acres of land. While the dream for the area to become a ski resort faded, the framework for the iconic getaway became a destination to unplug from reality and plug into relaxation.

“It’s unbelievable,” one visitor from Florida told us. “It’s incredible, I’m at a loss for words.”

“I just love being up here,” said employee Jocelyn Copsack. “It’s relaxing being able to talk to people from all over.”

From the food to the atmosphere, and even to the board games that can be found in all the nooks and cranny of the lodge, there truly is a sense of relaxation especially as you stare out the large window that adorns the front of the lodge — nature’s own little TV that just makes everything feel like home.

“I think the number one allure is the eye candy,” Polk said. “It’s everywhere you look as a postcard. You could drop your camera, have it take a picture and it’s going to be good.”

You really get a sense of the views of the Talkeetna Mountains and surrounding areas from your cabin, just a short walk away from the lodge.

From the first moment after opening the door, the rustic feeling of the cabin makes its presence known. A number of cabins surround the lodge, waiting to capture the moment of each guest that walks through the doors.

From hiking, to viewing the northern lights, to wildlife and photography, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. And at the end of an adventurous day, there is always a hot meal waiting to be served.

“The lodge is a gift here for us to get out of the elements,” Polk said. “But in the long run, Mother Nature is what everyone is looking for.”

There are some elements that people can’t escape at the lodge: the element of laughter that fills the lodge’s cafe, the element of surprise that awaits the turn of every story, and as the day draws to an end, the element of sleep that awaits as one settles into their rustic cabin.

“You know we’re camping here,” Polk said. “We’re not really a five-star hotel, but in my eyes it is.”

Although the lodge never became the ski resort that Hap had originally envisioned, Skeetawk now just a few miles away helps bring even more visitors to the lodge.

“I took him (Hap) down there and bless his soul, his eyes weren’t good enough to see it from the vehicle,” Polk said. “So he never did get to see Skeetawk. So, I think he left believing it isn’t happening”

That business helps fuel the memories and keep the legacy of the lodge alive for years to come.

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