Alaska’s national parks saw a record 2.78 million visits during 2016, a figure that overshot the previous year’s record by almost 100,000.
According to a press release, the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park received 912,351 of those visitors, yet again making it the first most-visited park in the state.
Skagway’s cruise ship traffic plays a large factor in the park’s success said Mike Tranel, superintendent of the Klondike Gold Rush park, but the National Parks Service’s work may nevertheless be a subtle factor.
“I recognize that the cruises aren’t marketing ‘let’s go to Skagway to go to Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park,’ they’re marketing everything about Skagway,” Tranel said. “But the contribution of the park is preserving the gold rush, the historic scene and the historic buildings.”
These efforts contribute to the character of Skagway, according to Tranel.
“And the character of the town is what they are marketing,” Tranel said.
NPS owns 20-plus buildings in Skagway’s historic downtown, and works constantly to maintain them.
Those efforts are put to the test during tourist season, as nearly a million guests come through NPS property.
“There’s certainly a lot of wear and tear on facilities, especially bathrooms,” Tranel said. Like any local operation that sees a ton of tourists, the Klondike Gold Rush employees must interact with an onslaught of fresh faces on a daily basis during summer.
Finding the correct people for that job, people who enjoy that kind of work, presents its own set of challenges.
“The visitor’s center here gets pretty intense if you come by at 9 o’clock on a weekday on a four-ship day,” Tranel said.
The Klondike Gold Rush park is followed in volume of visits by Denali National Park with 587,412 visitors, Glacier Bay National Park with 520,171 visitors, Kenai Fjords National Park with 346,534 visitors and Sitka National Historic Park with 217,141 visitors.
Sitka’s number of visitors grew 17 percent in 2016 compared to the previous year’s numbers, and expects a 2017 increase of 20 percent in cruise ship passengers.
“In 2016, the park worked collaboratively with both the Sitka community and cruise ship industry to provide dockside bus transportation to the park,” Sitka park Superintendent David Elkowitz said in the release. “Upon arrival, visitors enjoyed expanded artist and cultural demonstration offerings as an added incentive to visit.”