By Melinda Munson
On March 18, Dustin Stone resigned as administrative support assistant at Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park (KGR). It was a surprising move given he and his wife, Chelsey, are saving to purchase Skagway’s At The White House, a bed and breakfast Chelsey operates.
“I am completely unemployed,” Stone said. “I didn’t plan on walking out the way that I did.”
After expressing discomfort to his supervisors on March 16 that national park employees were required to continue working after Skagway declared a state of emergency, Stone said he was told the system takes time.
“Time was something I didn’t feel we had,” Stone said.
On March 17, the park closed all public access to its buildings. In a news release dated March 23, KGR announced employees would telework for the next fourteen calendar days. The release noted that “a small number of staff performing or supporting mission essential functions will continue to work with the park and park offices.”
Jason Verhaeghe, public information officer for KGR, said they never comment on the departure of an employee.
U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced on March 18 that all national park fees would be waived.
“This small step makes it a little easier for the American public to enjoy the outdoors in our incredible National Parks,” Bernhardt said.
The decision was met with criticism from Phil Francis of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks.
“It is irresponsible to urge people to visit national park sites when gathering at other public spaces is no longer considered safe,” Francis said. “We are concerned that the Secretary’s decision to waive entrance fees will lead to overcrowding and a greater risk to the health and well-being of our NPS employees and visitors.”
While Skagwegians can’t physically access any of their national park sites, Verhaeghe noteed there are virtual tours available at https://www.nps.gov/klgo/index.htm.
“We want folks to know there are still options to explore,” Verhaeghe said.” He added that interested parties can earn their junior ranger badge on-line at any age.
Stone is at peace with his decision to leave KGR.
“I feel that I stood up for the community,” he said.
Given Skagway’s uncertain economic outlook with the Port of Seattle closed indefinitely, Stone is not currently looking for a job.