McKinley Creekside Cabins, Cafe, & Bakery's secret to success is our friendly, knowledgeable and professional staff! From the dishwashers and housekeepers to our kitchen crew, management team and everyone in between, we are passionate about what we do, love where we live and let it show! Meet a few of the familiar faces of Creekside. We hope to get to know you this summer around the campfire!
Tracey Smith, Co-Owner
Welcome to Denali National Park, a place I am fortunate to call my home. It all started around 1997 with my best friend, Holly, and a dream. A desire to do something on our own. Carving out a life that would not be traditional. My mom thought I was crazy, my dad said, “go for it”. With my son Coleman, who was two years old at the time, Holly and I staked all we had on an old historical property originally called Jere-A-Tad, built in 1966 …but truth be told it started long before 1997….
I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit since as far back as I can remember. I did everything from making and selling crafts, to pulling a snack wagon with homemade goodies around the neighborhood, I was that kid. My first restaurant was with my sister and cousin, called the Pacody Café (our names combined, of course). We served curious creations for cheap and even had a song and dance act to entertain our guests…Kenny Rogers - "The Gambler". Those were the days of mindful creativity and where the dreams started.
One fateful night I met Holly and we became fast friends and immediately our entrepreneurial spirits combined and we started dreaming about businesses we could start. Out went the TV and in came the Anthony Robbins motivational CD collection, yeah seriously.
There were many obstacles and challenges along the way, but thankfully and gratefully we are still here over 25 years later. People always ask, "what's the secret?" God, doing, and of course relentless determination.
Holly Slinkard, Co-Owner
“All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence and then success is sure” – Mark Twain
The spirit of Alaska has always been in my blood. My grandparents settled in Anchorage in the 40’s after World War II, when it was just a one-horse town. My father also went north to Alaska in the early 70’s where I became a product of Hippie love 😊 and 19 years later, I too ventured from California to find my way in Alaska.
My first job was working on a fishing boat in the Bering Sea. It was certainly a unique experience, which motivated me to find another career. I chose travel…because well, I love to travel. So, I became a travel agent, which led me to this awesome business that I am so lucky to be a part of.
I met Tracey shortly thereafter, and as kindred spirits we immediately began dreaming of starting our own business. With no experience and little money, we were somehow able to purchase a very old but historic Denali lodge, with the most beautiful location we had ever seen. Talk about being in the right place at the right time!
I sometimes think back after all these years, how far we’ve come, and it still all seems unbelievable… even now. Divine providence is the only way to explain it and just putting one foot in front of the other. In the end, persistence prevails when all else fails.
Jess Cottle (2nd Season)
I am an adventurer that has been in the seasonal industry close to 20 years. I have lived, worked and explored all over the west coast. However, Alaska keeps calling me back since 2005. I have lived in Talkeetna, Anchorage, and 2023 will be my 5th non-consecutive season in Denali. Experiencing the outdoors is one of my favorite things to do along with eating cheese and snuggling dogs!
Creekside has always been my favorite place to visit while living in the Denali area, even before I worked here! Our Carlo Creek location is inviting and is a sanctuary in Alaska. We work hard and play just as hard. It is astounding how many places there are to explore right in our own backyard. Our crew is amazing and they all contribute to ensure Creekside is a comfortable, welcoming place for our team members and guests.
If I'm not working, you will find me walking around the property, sitting on the deck or hanging out at the campfire. I love listening to the creek and winning at corn hole.
Kebra Engel (16th Season)
My work experience had primarily been in call centers and retail, so I looked for an entry level service job. While deciding where to go, I simply chose a place that didn’t require a passport because I didn’t have one yet! I started at Creekside as a housekeeper in 2008 and I’ve returned every summer since.
I have loved watching the property grow and change over the years. My purpose and job duties have changed with it. As the Guest Rooms Manager, I work closely with the management team to ensure that our guest experience exceeds expectations throughout the property. Even though I’m very introverted, I have come to love getting to know our guests, hearing stories of their time in Denali, and seeing their excitement as I tell them stories of my own.
Originally, I spent the off-season in Oregon or California with my family working odd jobs, and even worked another seasonal job in Arizona, where I met my boyfriend. Then in 2015, we found the perfect fit to our seasonal lifestyle in a remote camp located on Alaska’s Dalton Highway that runs year-round but hires seasonally to accommodate the busier times. We love the slower pace and quiet beauty of winter in the Arctic, and the flexibility between seasons allows us to travel. So far, we’ve cruised the Caribbean, Alaska’s inside passage, and the Panama Canal, and backpacked for three months in Peru. Our next destination is Ireland and we are so excited!
When I’m not working, I’m often knitting and thinking of future projects while listening to podcasts or trying to spend time outside with my boyfriend. We love to explore on the Denali Highway and it’s our tradition to take the bus tour into the park every July for my birthday. One of my favorite things about Denali is the ability to experience the natural beauty and wildlife in so many ways, whether you prefer to climb the surrounding peaks or take a bus tour into the park.
At Creekside, you’ll most likely see me working, but you may also find me knitting on our beautiful pavilion or enjoying breakfast at the café. My favorite is the biscuits and gravy with over-easy eggs on top. Yum!
Kristina Miller (8th Season)
Food & Beverage Manager
I was born and raised as a military brat and had the great opportunity to be introduced to Alaska when I was six months old. I have now lived in Alaska off and on for the better part of 18 years. Alaska has always called to me. Its vastness and beauty can never grow old.
Seasonal life found me and has changed my life forever.
I was a practicing hairdresser for 12 years, I enjoyed the job fully but I craved more. I wanted to travel, learn new skills and meet new people. I stopped doing hair and moved to Seattle. I started working in a small community kitchen for a healthy meal delivery service but wanted to learn more. By happenstance, I met Holly and she told me about a possible Kitchen Manager position and the rest is history. I have learned a lot from our Café team! It is such an honor to work with such a talented staff and be able to go on adventures in Denali on our off time.
Since starting my seasonal life, I have spent the off season in Kauai working as a bartender, breakfast cook, barista and server. I have worked two wine harvests in Willamette Valley, Oregon as a member of the production staff, for both large, high volume producers and small, boutique winemakers. I spent this last off season caring for my little Italian grandmother in Arizona.
What can I say about Creekside? This place is it’s very own oasis in one of the most beautiful places in the world! Enjoying amazing food, stories, campfires, music and beer by the creek all summer - who doesn’t want that?! I feel lucky to have thousands of acres to explore right in our own backyard, meeting the amazing people of Denali and being accepted into their community. I am honored to now be apart of the Creekside Family!
Sarah Hanley (6th Season)
I was originally born in New Jersey, but at the age of ten my family and I moved to North Carolina where I lived up until I graduated from North Carolina State University in 2011. Not sure what I wanted to do next, I moved to Israel for ten months to teach English and there I truly realized my dream, to attend culinary school in NYC.
After graduating culinary school and two years working in NYC, I moved to Portland, Oregon to experience life on the West coast, but I wasn’t feeling settled anywhere. I wanted to travel to new places, but still be able to work and do what I love. My friends in the industry had always told me about seasonal work and I decided to take the plunge.
Creekside was the first seasonal job I applied for and the first place to get back to me. Alaska was a place I’d always wanted to see, so their offer sealed my fate. For someone who moves around as much as I do, Creekside has become like a home to me and has remained a constant in my life for the past three summers. At Creekside, I get to live in a place surrounded by my friends, experience the beauty of Alaska, and bake delicious goodies all night long! During my winters, I bounce between my parents’ home in Arizona and work in places such as Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Park City, Utah.
When I’m not working, I’m strolling around property, watching scary movies, or researching my next recipe! On occasion, you’ll find my hosting karaoke as MC Slaps, belting out some of my favorites like “Jolene” or “Harvest Moon”.