'Stonecliff' musical to tell life of White Pass builder

Billy Lake, who will play Michael Heney in “Stonecliff.” PHOTO COURTESY OF CONRAD BOYCE

A musical is coming to town, one that casts Skagway as a main character. “Stonecliff” is a musical drama detailing the life of Michael Heney,  who was primarily responsible for building the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad. It will be performed at the Skagway School on Wednesday, Nov. 15, with free admission, though donations will be accepted.

Within its three acts, “Stonecliff” focuses on the life of Heney – the ups and downs, the triumphs and tragedies.

“It’s a pretty amazing and tragic story,” said Conrad Boyce, writer and organizer of “Stonecliff.” “And we decided we wanted to build a musical out of it.”

Heney is played by Billy Lake, an actor based in Toronto, Canada.

“He’s quite excited, not too many actors get the chance to create a role in a new musical,” Boyce said. “And it’s a big part, he’s on stage for the vast majority of the show.”

Collaborating with Boyce on the project is Matthew Lien, a Yukon-based singer and songwriter who has written a lot of environmentally based music. Lien had never written a musical before, but Boyce said Lien took to it with “relish.”

“[He] has produced amazing music, the cast is really having fun with the music,” Boyce said.

Boyce said they worked musical themes related to Heney’s story into the composition, as well as period-appropriate tunes.

“Being Irish was very important to Heney,” Boyce said. “He was known as Alaska’s Irish Prince…so we decided that we wanted to do a lot of the music on Irish folk instruments, so you’ll hear a lot of Uilleann pipes and mandolins and fiddles and that sort of thing.

“We wanted to also blend the kind of music that he would have encountered in Alaska and the Yukon at the time the White Pass was built.”

The first act of the play follows Heney’s pre-White Pass career, from the time he first fell in love with railroads as a boy through the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway.

The second act follows the building of the White Pass railroad, and the final act trails Heney through the remainder of his life.

“Skagway itself is a character in the story,” Boyce said. “We also feature, in the very beginning of Act Two, we feature the shootout between Frank Reid and Jesse Murphy and Soapy Smith, because that incident and the death of Soapy Smith was really crucial to the success of the railway.”

The show will open in Anchorage on Nov. 10 with four performances, before coming to Skagway on Nov. 15.

“I think people will enjoy it, a lot of Skagwegians are very familiar with the history, but it’s presented in a very entertaining and musical way,” Boyce said.

King salmon run better than worst-case scenario

Following a poor 2017 king salmon run, in 2018 the Skagway and Haines area may face sport fishing restrictions similar to those from this most recent summer season.

Area management biologist Richard Chapell, with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), said the 2017 run saw about 1,300 large kings in the Chilkat River.

This was higher than the earlier prediction of 600 that the ADF&G made in the spring, but is still a ways off from the ideal range.

“The goal is 1,850-3,600, so it’s well below the goal,” Chapell said. “I guess it’s a little bit better than the lowest, pessimistic forecast we used, but it still indicates that there’s very poor marine survival.”

Chapell said that there is some kind of failure happening in the ocean environment regarding juvenile kings and their ability to mature.

ADF&G had levied strict limitations on king salmon fishing in the Haines/Skagway area (Subdistrict 15-A) and by Juneau as well. Retention of king salmon in Subdistrict 15-A is closed through Dec. 31 of this year. The waters around Juneau were subject to a complete suspension of fishing for king salmon, but those regulations ended on June 14.

“Going forward, the [king salmon] forecast for next year is not going to be very promising either, so I would expect about the same amount of sport fishing restrictions in 2018 as we saw this year,” Chapell said, adding that nothing has been decided yet.

Mandating the use of barbless hooks has been discussed, Chapell said, but he said that ADF&G has adopted the position that barbless hooks don’t make a significant difference in catch and release fishing mortality.

“I think careful handling is more important than whether the hook has a barb or not,” Chapell said.

Moving into the winter, ADF&G will process the data collected from the escapements, and in January, Chapell said research staff will make a profile of the escapements and harvests. In the spring, the department should have its regulations for the 2018 summer season ready to announce.

White Pass, municipality provide update on rockslide

Following a series of rockslides over the Railroad Dock late in the summer season – one of which shut the dock down for the last few weeks of summer – the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad and the Municipality of Skagway brought in engineers to review the mountainside and assess the risks.

Updated information on this was presented in the Borough Manager’s report at the Oct. 19 Borough Assembly meeting.

The report states that White Pass is mapping the hillside with surveys and drones, so any further movement can be measured. Once that data is collected, a preliminary plan will be created and compiled into a report, expected in about a month, according to the manager’s report.

White Pass Executive Director of Human Resources and Strategic Planning Tyler Rose said on Oct. 19 that the railroad anticipates construction of mitigation infrastructure to be completed well before the cruise ship operating season, so that the dock will be open.

“Somewhere in the next three weeks to a month, we’ll have some preliminary design, and look to order some materials and we’ll probably have some sort of a rendering to share so the people understand what we’re trying to do down there to mitigate the problem,” Rose said. “Through this process, it was obviously a hot-button issue, and I think White Pass’s communication could have certainly been better in this process. I’ve spoken with some of the assembly members and the mayor as far as ways to improve our communication, not only on this, but [on] a lot of issues.”