MOUNTAIN ECHOES: Lifelong business fantasy crushed by rock quarrying proposal

Alaska restaurants with a view are few and far between
Wednesday, March 23, 2016 - 09:30
  • “Knik Knob” at Mile 29.6 of the Parks Highway, at the junction with the Old Glenn Highway. At right is 6,398-foot Pioneer Peak. PHOTO BY FRANK BAKER FOR THE STAR

On the Parks Highway headed for Palmer, Wasilla, Big Lake and farther north; or points along the Knik River if you turn right onto the old Glenn Highway, we’ve all passed by the shoe-shaped, tree-covered knob at Mile 29.6—a unique feature that nearly rivals the “Butte” in distinctiveness.

Since the 1950s I’ve wondered about this hill, also known as the “Knik Knob.” Beginning way back in the late 1950s when the glaciers were closer, my step-dad often mentioned how neat it would be to have a rotating restaurant at the top of the knob that would offer a 360-degree view of the Chugach Mountains, the Matanuska-Susitna Valleys and the Talkeetna Mountains.

Restaurant customers, he offered, would park at the base of the hill and be lifted to the restaurant on a tramway, which would also transport business supplies.

My step-dad was neither wealthy nor a businessman, and we knew that it was only a whimsy. We didn’t even know who owned the land. But we always thought that perhaps at some point in the future, some enterprising Alaskan would make the dream a reality.

It was only recently, some 65 years later, that I satisfied my curiosity. I stopped briefly at a small pullout and saw “No Trespassing” signs indicating the area is owned by Eklutna, Inc., which is one of the village corporations in the Cook Inlet Region Inc., created by the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANSCA). Eklutna, Inc. is Anchorage’s largest landowner.

On the Eklutna Inc. Web site I learned that the corporation has considered the possibility of quarrying some of the hard rock (granite) from this land. It noted that an estimated 20-30 million tons could be extracted from the site, but that the project will not proceed until contracts for use are in place.

Some things, I guess, just have to remain fantasies.

A long time ago, back in the 1950s-70s, there was a lodge high on a hill overlooking Kenai Lake called “Our Point of View Lodge.” It offered fine cuisine, a huge rock fireplace, overnight lodging and most of all, a jaw-dropping view. Unfortunately, the lodge burned to the ground in 1975.

Since then I always wished there were more restaurants that offered great vistas, aside from our high-rise hotels in downtown Anchorage.

A few outstanding eating establishments from bygone days were Jolly Vi’s, on the Seward Highway overlooking Turnagain Arm; the Rabbit Creek Inn, located in south Anchorage with a view Cook Inlet; and the Stuckagain Heights Restaurant off Basher Road, perched high above Anchorage.

Most people I’ve talked to about a revolving restaurant atop the “Knik Knob” think it’s a lame idea—that it’s too remote to become economically feasible.

I counter with the fact about 25,000-30,000 commuters drive the Parks Highway into Anchorage daily during the work week, and the “Knob” would make a great evening dinner stop on the way home.  On weekends, perhaps, it might become a nice dining destination for Palmer-Wasilla and Anchorage residents. And it could become a designated stop during the tourism season for buses, along with an Alaska Railroad stop and shuttle to the tramway.

But alas, hard rocks, especially granite, are valuable commodities. And in Alaska’s depressed economy, I doubt anyone in the foreseeable future is inclined to make a multi-million-dollar investment in a grandiose scheme such as a revolving restaurant.

So, as I have done for more than half a century, when I drive by the “Knob,” I’ll picture the development in my mind’s eye—sun reflecting off the glass of the grand, rotating restaurant--a tramway ferrying eager customers to a lofty aerie and a view to best Seattle’s Space Needle.

“Maybe someday, someone will do it,” I think to myself.

Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River. Frank welcomes comments on his column and suggestions. Contact him at:  [email protected].

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