By Melinda Munson

Angela Wetz had never visited Skagway when she accepted the position as interim superintendent of Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park (KGR).

She knew people who “raved about the park and the community” and had vacationed once in Anchorage. That was enough for Wetz to pack up her Toyota Tacoma with six weeks notice. She made the nearly five day journey with her 13-year-old daughter and her daughter’s saxophone, which took up a disproportionate amount of space in Wetz’ truck.

Formerly the superintendent of Fossil Butte National Monument in Kemmerer, Wyoming, Wetz replaced Jason Taylor who was appointed director of the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute, Rocky Mountain Research Station in Missoula, Montana. Taylor served as superintendent of KGR for one year. 

Wetz competed for the KGR position and was thrilled to be accepted. 

“It’s a hard year to go out and meet people but I’m excited,” Wetz said.

Wetz’s assignment will last up to a year. She is in charge of approximately 37 year-round National Park Service (NPS) employees in the Municipality of Skagway, as well as this summer’s 12 seasonal hires. (Roughly 20 seasonal workers would be hired in a normal summer.) 

Wetz anticipates that managing the risk of COVID-19 will be one of her biggest challenges. She is also tasked with “moving forward on the projects that have been planned,” such as the construction to the visitor’s center and the proposed improvements to the Dyea area of KGR.

Wetz is focusing on “flexibility” and promoting history.

 ‘We’re all learning all the time,” Wetz said. She plans to promote virtual park programs as she waits for Skagway’s NPS museums and centers to reopen.

“We’ve been sites where people come to heal,” Wetz said. She expects national parks to be busier than ever when the threat of COVID-19 is diminished.

KGR, the most visited national park in Alaska, welcomed 1,116,161 guests in 2019. KGR is unique as parts of the park are within Skagway city limits. The NPS manages 22 buildings throughout downtown, as well as acres of wilderness in nearby Dyea. 

It’s commonplace to see an armed NPS patrol officer walking the streets of Skagway and several local businesses lease their buildings from the NPS.

With Wetz’s COVID-19 tests complete, she’s ready to get to work.

“I am honored to be entrusted with leading the outstanding staff at KGR and be a part of the preservation,” she said. 

Wetz said she looks forward to the opportunity to “connect with the community, park partners and tribal representatives.”