“If these walls could talk”…
…we’d probably have to plug our ears to keep our innocence in tact. As Alaska’s oldest, continually operating roadhouse, the lodge has seen and heard a scandalous story or two. Of course, our history is also full of tales of brave and daring folks with grit, adventure, and good ol’ fashion know how running in their veins. Some of them are still around.
The Stuff We're Made Of
Mission, Vision, Values
The Historic Gakona Lodge and Trading Post is a family owned and operated business established and built in 1904. It is a lot more than just a place to stay. It’s a place to experience!
While some proprietor or another has been running the lodge as he or she has seen fit since 1904, our family purchased it in 2014. Naturally, we brought with us our own life experiences and thoughts on how it should run.
And after making a go of it for a number of seasons now, well, we’re still tweaking things.
Click the button below to learn more, and thank you for visiting us!
With over 100 years of operating history out in the wild of Alaska, the lodge has seen a thing or two. It is also an ever changing place that tends to both take on the personality of its staff and owners and also have a character all its own at the same time.
Like all history, the lodge’s history is much more than a bunch of facts and dates that go into a checklist and get read and maybe memorized. Instead, it is a series of stories about our country, our state, and our community. It is about people taking a shot at the quintessential “American Dream”…and coming from all different places and backgrounds to do so.
Click here to read more about our family, team, and history.
When we talk about family, we aren’t just talking about our parents, our kids, and our other blood relatives. To us, family is more about the relationships that you can form with pretty much anybody. It’s just a higher, ever evolving form of friendship…one in which you establish a life-long relationship and commitment to taking interest in and keeping up with another person.
All that to say…our family is huge! REALLY HUGE! Since 2014, we’ve added staffers, neighbors, lodge guests, tour guides, and Aleyeska Pipeline crew to the family. To call us a blended family would be an understatement.
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Mission, Vision, Values
Back To The Drawing Board
So we are going to be as candid and transparent as we possibly can here…or at least we’re going to try…
We’ve been running the lodge for five seasons now, and we’ve been going about all this business stuff completely wrong. Well…sort of wrong… The one thing that we think we’re doing right is making sure we put people first. We tend to naturally focus on treating others how we’d like to be treated. You can thank our parents for that.
That said, for us to really achieve what we are hoping to achieve at the lodge, we are putting the appropriate amount of time into redoing this whole section of our business, and then making sure everything we do ties back to it and revolves around it.
We will likely create an additional newsletter or blog article around this topic once we are done. In the meantime, please just consider this section “under construction”.
Over 100 Years In The Making
As you might guess, over 100 years of history is a lot to cram into a single section of a web page. So, we won’t even try to cover everything. We’ll give you a quick run down of the lodge’s establishment and evolution including: details about its founders, and the development and construction of the different buildings that are still on the property today.
We’ll keep working on this part and we will write up some fun stories of some of the colorful characters that have owned, operated, or frequented the lodge throughout its history. In the meantime, scroll down for the general summary.
The Doyle Ranch
In 1902, a man named James Doyle acquired about 160 acres to homestead in Gakona, Alaska. Like most frontier homesteads throughout American history, the initial focus for the new homesteaders was farming and survival.
Thanks to the traffic generated to the area with the work done here by the Alaska Road Commission, Doyle constructed a log roadhouse in 1904, and Gakona Lodge (then Doyle’s Roadhouse) was born. Unfortunately for Doyle’s new lodging business, the road commission kept working on the nearby road and actually bypassed
Gakona just a few years later. Travelers heading to Fairbanks from Valdez no longer needed to stop into Gakona.
However, Doyle started a business tradition that would continue throughout Gakona history. He adapted. With road traffic all but gone, Doyle changed the main function of his roadhouse from lodging into a trading post. He also continued farming and developing his homestead. During his time in Gakona, Doyle also constructed three other buildings: an ice shed, a storage building, and a barn (these were actually built in 1904 at the same time as the original roadhouse). Around 1910, Doyle sold his property, and for a decade or so after it’s sale, the lodge changed hands a few different times.
World War II Additions
The Gakona District
In the early 1920’s the Doyle’s Ranch and Roadhouse were owned by a local mining company. Arne Sundt, a manager at the company, bought the property from the mining company. In the mid-1920’s, Sundt began expansion operations on the Gakona property.
Thanks to an increase in road traffic with new gold mining operations at Nabesna mine and renewed road improvements from the road commission, business was booming for Sundt. Between 1926 and 1929, he built a new, two-story lodge, a carriage and wagon wheel repair shop, and multiple smaller cabins.
Major additions and changes to the lodge happened again during World War II. To facilitate military ground vehicle transport, the Alaska highway was built. Further, a southern route was cut out that went from Tok down to Slana and linked up with the road work done by the Alaska Road Commission.
Around this time, a freighting company that was operating out of the lodge property built a five-bay garage and the U.S. Army built another smaller garage., bringing the total number of buildings on the property to 11 and rounding out the transformation from the Doyle Ranch to the Gakona District.
Transition to the Present
In the latter years their of ownership, the Sundt family moved some of the buildings around the property converted the garage built by the U.S. Army into the Trappers Den Tavern.
In the mid-1960’s, Jerry and Barbara Strang bought the lodge property from the Sundts. The sale did not include the full 160 acres that had transferred with the property on each previous sale. It was whittled down to about six acres and 10 of the 11 Gakona District buildings. Jerry and Barb were aided in running it by Jerry’s brother John, who recently moved back to Gakona.
The Strangs did a lot of maintenance catch up on the old buildings and converted the carriage repair shop into the Carriage House Restaurant. After about 40 years of owning and operating the lodge and raising their family in Gakona, the Strangs sold the lodge to the Marshalls.
The Marshalls continued to work on the deferred maintenance catch up at the lodge and raised three of their five children during their ten years of ownership. The Marshalls also transitioned lodge operations to a seasonal nature, staying on the property at times during the winters, but primarily operating during the summers. In 2014, the Marshalls sold the property to the Potters.
Clif and Rebecca Potter are the current owners of Gakona Lodge and continue to run it seasonally. You can learn more about the Potters and their family in the sections below on…you guessed it…FAMILY. Just continue scrolling to learn more.
The Gakona Lodge Family
As we mentioned at the top of the page, family is kind of a big deal to us. In fact, by modern, western standards, we have a pretty large family since we have four kids. We’ll introduce you to them, to ourselves, and to a few other folks that have been adopted to our family. We’d love to list a whole lot more, but we’ll leave that for our newsletter. We’ll keep you updated on the latest staff members and updates to family happenings there.
Further, we like the idea of folks telling you about themselves in their own words. While we’ll do a brief overview of our family and how we got here in this section and the sections below, we’ll include links to full bios done by each person in their own words in case you are interested in reading more.
How We Got Here
As mentioned above, we (the Potters) came to Gakona in 2014. We’d been living in Alaska since 2011, when the Army moved us to Anchorage. We were friends with Dan Marshall before arriving to Alaska, and we stopped into Gakona on our first drive up to the state. We absolutely loved the place! Two years later, we really didn’t think that we were going to buy the lodge, though we knew it was up for sale. However, after we decided that we were going to wrap up our time in the Army, and after a few uninspiring twists and turns during what we thought was going to be our transition to Corporate America, we decided to give it a go.
We are not full-time Alaskan’s as we spend our winters exploring other entrepreneurial endeavors in Texas. Also, we found out pretty quickly when we moved here that, like Texas, it is almost impossible to ever be a “real Alaskan” unless you are born here. Did we mention that family is kind of a big deal to us? Well…it is! So it only makes sense for us that we live very close to our family when we are back in Texas…like on the same farm close.
So, we go back and forth each year in true nomadic fashion, and what we get in exchange for this seeming lack of a real home is genuine adventure, excitement, and life-lessons for our kids (sometimes for us too…especially the lessons). We made this decision to make sure that we could have our fill of family time…as in, all the time. So, while it’s not without its challenges, that’s what we’ve got. We work, eat, sleep, play and relocate together…and…for the most part, it’s pretty great. Feel free to keep scrolling to read more about us individually.
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The Whole Is The Sum Of Its Parts
Clif first visited Gakona Lodge in June of 2011 on his way to his new Army duty station in Anchorage. He thought the place to be absolutely magical, and it felt like home from the first time he set foot on the grounds. Unfortunately, the lodge is not really in any condition to be run economically in the winter months, so (at least for now) it’s just his “sometimes home”. Like Barry, Clif has learned a lot from working at and on the lodge grounds and its buildings doing everything from plumbing to electrical work to carpentry and more. It is certainly a labor of love, with a smattering of hate thrown in there on occasion.
While it’s easy to get frustrated and overwhelmed by the massive task list that he has put together for himself in restoring the lodge to its heyday glory, Clif still feels the lodges brightest days are ahead of it and is smitten with the possibilities and adventure that it has to offer. It’s in his vision for the place to take the lodge “off grid” and “green”, using the local utilities predominantly as
a back up to other renewable resources. Beyond that, he just hopes that it continues to be a place of wonder and magic for his kids to grow up at and for them to instinctively learn about entrepreneurship and pursuing what the world has to offer them.
Since the Potters purchased the lodge in 2014, Rebecca has stepped “Back to the Future” and has picked up some habits of the early settlers of Alaska. Rebecca is the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker. You can usually find her in the kitchen cooking recipes from scratch with local ingredients when available. If she’s not behind the stove you can find her homeschooling their children or making her daughter dresses. Rebecca stepped out of the music business world in 2010 and has since forgotten how to download a MP3 file. Rebecca prefers to spend her time away from crowds and devotes her time to her children, husband, and God.
Aidan is Clif & Rebecca’s oldest son. He was born in South Korea and has been multilingual since he was able to speak. He’s pretty shy about speaking Hangul (Korean) to those that don’t speak it as well, but that’s about the only thing that he’s shy about! Since Clif & Rebecca first took over management of the lodge in 2014, Aidan dubbed himself the “gift shop manager”. While he hasn’t done a whole lot in the gift shop, he does like to put in a few hours of work now and then helping change linens and do laundry.
Aidan’s hobbies include just about anything that involves video games when he is allowed to play them. He also loves to make up his own version of board games that are typically based off of comic book characters and their super powers. To the left is Aidan holding his first sockeye. We believe fishing might be his super power as on that particular trip, he hooked a fish every couple of casts while every other person on the trip, including some very experienced fly fishermen, got skunked.
Orin is the middle boy in the Potter family, and he may just love Gakona Lodge more than anybody else…anybody else! Orin is in his element at the lodge. He loves the outdoors and exploring nature. He does so naturally as well. You’ll hardly ever catch him running around with his shoes on, even when sprinting across the gravel driveway at the lodge. He has such an aversion to shoes that there has only been one summer out of five that Clif or Rebecca have not had to pull something out of his foot or superglue a gash in his foot back together.
Elias “Bexar” is the youngest of the three Potter boys. He was Clif & Rebecca’s “transition” baby and as such was given a name that is both completely Alaskan and Texan at the same time. Bexar is pronounced “bear”, and is the neighboring county to where Clif grew up in Texas, and of course the bear parallel really needs no explanation.
Elias is full of personality, and he loves meeting new people. At just four years old, he already considers himself quite the ladies’ man, and Clif & Rebecca foresee this being a problem for them in the future. He loves music and particularly loves changing the lyrics to songs he likes…especially if he can change them into words that make fun of his siblings.
Elisabeth is the youngest of the Potter children and the only girl in the bunch. The picture to the left, and many like it, absolutely capture the essence of her nature. She is silly and “girly” (in that she loves dolls, pink, and princesses), but she is an absolute mess, pretty much all of the time. If you see her and her face is not covered with food, mud, marker, paint, or some other unknown, smearable substance, then she either just had a bath, her mother just cleaned said substance off her face, or she is just biding her time until she can sneak off and smear something on her face while nobody is looking.
If a child’s work is her play, then Elisabeth works almost as hard as Jan does. She moves from one location to the next turning any object that she finds into her newest toy. Lock up your valuables and fragile items while she is around or your treasure is certain to become her toy and then her trash. Like Bexar, she loves to sing and entertain, and she especially loves to “help” Rebecca in the kitchen.
Jan has been with Gakona Lodge since the 2017 season. She is a native Texan and Clif & Rebecca’s “adopted mom”. Jan is a retired teacher and the hardest working woman ever there was. She is the lead housekeeper at the lodge and typically refuses to take any kind of breaks unless it’s a smoke break. Seriously, it’s a problem for her not to stay busy. Jan likes to keep busy to the point that, during the 2017 season, Clif and Barry would set “Jan traps” if they couldn’t find her and needed to talk with her. A Jan trap can typically be set by intentionally putting a pile of unfolded, clean laundry in a common area. There are other variations of the Jan trap, but you get the idea. Within minutes (if not seconds) Jan will emerge to get to folding it. It’s probably 1,000 times more effective than staff radios.
Jan has been everything at the Gakona Lodge from a new best friend for some locals to a mysterious unknown to others. She is absolutely adored by anyone who takes the time to get to know her, but watch out, she bites. No kidding, don’t pick a fight with her…YOU’LL LOSE!
Jan Maslen has been a member of the staff since 2014. She is the about the sweetest lady on the planet, and we love that she keeps coming back to work with us summer after summer. Jan’s “real job” is with the National Park Service, so you may run into here if you visit the Wrangell/St. Elias National Park Visitor Center.
She and her husband, Walt, are transplants to Alaska like much of the Alaska population, but they have been living and playing in Alaska for decades now. They are a wealth of information on getting around in Alaska, and the world for that matter. Make sure you tell her hello and get to know her a bit. We’ll bet that you’ll lover her as much as we do after just a few seconds of talking to her.
Barry joined the Gakona Lodge team in 2015 and has been a critical member of the team from his first day on the job. He drove the passenger van that is at the lodge all the way up from Texas his first year. Barry is also the only member of the current team to have stayed at the lodge throughout the winter in the winter of 2015. He was a colleague of Clif’s in the Army while they were service in the 4th Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division together in Anchorage. Barry deployed to combat multiple times during his Army tenure and separated from the military in 2013. He reunited with Clif by chance in late 2014 and was itching to get back up to Alaska from Texas.
Since he started at the lodge, Barry has steadily been honing his “man skills”, learning to do all kinds of maintenance work on the buildings and grounds, “making things out of wood” (with a Dremel by the way), and even meticulously maintaining (until recently) his trendy “man bun”. Barry is moving on to his next chapter of life in 2018 as he is getting married, but we thought it important to include him here, and you are likely to still see him around. He just can’t get enough of Gakona.