Twin Bears Camp

Twin Bears Camp is a state park facility, 35 miles east of Fairbanks and is part of the Chena River Recreation Area. Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival now manages the camp. Photo courtesy State Division of Parks & Recreation

Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival now operates Twin Bears Camp on Chena Hot Springs Road, providing a new source of income for the longtime non-profit and a new venue for artistic retreats and workshops.

The camp is a state park facility at Mile 30 on Chena Hot Springs Road, about 35 miles east of Fairbanks. It borders a four-acre lake and features hiking trails, ski trails, wildlife viewing and other outdoor activities. The camp is part of the Chena River Recreation Area, under the umbrella of the state Division of Parks & Outdoor Recreation.

Here is how Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival ended up managing it.

Every season, participants in the Composers in the Wilderness program need a spot to isolate and compose musical pieces, after their immersion in wilderness of Denali National Park.

“We’ve used them (Twin Bears) the past couple years,” said festival director James Menaker.

This summer, that option was not available because the park no longer had a manager. It was managed previously by Fairbanks Rescue Mission.

“So we applied to run the camp and our application was accepted,” Menaker said. “For this first year, we just rented it out for the summer and thought we’d get our feet wet with what it takes to actually run a camp.”

Festival took over management in May 2021.

“It has been great,” he said. “We have been able to work a lot with the Two Rivers community and we were able to pump some resources out there.”

The camp was booked for 20 days each month this past summer and is already scheduled for at least 10 weekends next summer.

Menaker doesn’t anticipate a lot of festival activities will take place there because it is so far from town.

“However, it does seem like it has the potential to be a really good resource for festival and for the arts,” he said.

Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival is collaborating with state park officials and several granting organizations to set up an artist-in-residence program for the winter months.

“It’s the perfect size for retreats, small groups or arts organizations, or songwriting getaways, or plein air painting,” Menaker said. “It’s an opportunity for us to let some artists utilize it, get away but still be on the road system, just down the road from Chena Hot Springs. It has a lot of great potential.”

“So we are thinking, talking, planning, fact finding, figuring out what we’re going to do with that,” he added.

The camp can house up to 130 people in bunk houses during the summer and about 20 people during winter months.

“At the very least, it helps bring in some revenue for festival and provides some resources for the community,” he said. “Hopefully, down the road, it will be able to be used in a variety of ways for bolstering the arts here in the community.”

Festival 2021

This was definitely the year to think outside the box, Menaker said. The only way to succeed was to find new ways of doing things.

So Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival started managing Twin Bears Camp. It also featured a web interview series with guest artists.

Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival held its annual meeting this week and took a look at how the 2021 season fared.

“In general our attendance was about 50% of what it had been in 2018 and 2019,” Menaker said.

That was because some guest artists chose not to attend, so there were fewer workshops. Health and safety regulations sometimes limited how many people could be in a class. Some people concerned about health/safety were not comfortable joining a big artistic gathering. And others, who normally attend festival, felt cooped up during the year and decided to travel over the summer and not stay in Fairbanks.

“Coming into this year, we had framed this festival as kind of an on ramp, transitioning from 2020 to 2022,” Menaker said. “Our thought was it’s going to be somewhere in between that. We planned for that and that’s about how it ended up going.”

All concerts were free in 2021, although donations were accepted.

“We wanted to get rid of as many impediments to people engaging with and enjoying the arts, as we could,” he said. “We knew this year was a financial hardship on a lot of folks.”

That was festival’s gift to the community, Menaker said.

Of course, the hope is that Covid-19 will come under control in the coming months so that Festival can enjoy a resurgence in attendance.

“I’ve got 10 months to work that all out,” he said. “What we have done the last couple years is make a plan, start working toward that and then adapt when we have to.

“If we try and wait for the all clear signal, we just end up having to cancel.”

Reach columnist/community editor Kris Capps at Follow her on Twitter @FDNMKris.

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