Alaska State Parks ranger Travis Russell said he’ll crack down on parking violations along the Chilkoot River corridor this summer in hopes of changing visitor behavior during peak bear and tourist season.

The Haines Borough Tourism Advisory Board recommended last week that the borough hire an employee to assist Parks personnel. The assembly had asked the group for suggestions on improving the tourist experience at Chilkoot.

Congestion on the road and potentially dangerous interactions with bears are getting worse as more people travel to Haines looking for wildlife encounters.

Tourism director Carolann Wooton said several people have written “unfavorable comments” about the area in blogs, warning others not to visit.

One blog post by “Dengler Images” discussed a visit in 2015: “I was dismayed but not surprised to hear about recent bad behavior by visitors to the Chilkoot River corridor near Haines, Alaska…This mix of people and bears in the confined corridor is a recipe for serious, and potentially dangerous problems.”

Wooton said others have complained in the visitor center about a lack of organization with large groups of people.

“We all know the Chilkoot Corridor is one of our biggest assets. It’s a huge draw for people,” said board chair Barbara Mulford. “And it’s several businesses’ livelihoods as far as operating out there.”

But Russell said the problem normally isn’t with tour operators, who go through a training program each spring. He said the training program will be improved this year based on safety protocols from the Kenai River and hopefully better attended.

Borough clerk Alekka Fullerton said she has started asking Russell about complaints against tour operators who apply for permits at Chilkoot Lake.

“The problems aren’t with commercial operators…it’s the independent travelers, especially those who are foreign visitors where English may not be their first language,” Russell said.

Russell said he issued five or six warnings a day last summer for people to move their cars. He and wildlife trooper Trent Chwialkowski are the only people authorized to enforce parking rules.

“I’m kind of losing my patience…I can’t be in multiple places at one time,” Russell said. “There might be some parking tickets this summer and hopefully that will correct the behavior.” Tickets carry a $25 fine.

“Start ticketing instead of warning,” said board member Alison Jacobson. “For locals and even lodge owners, if they hear that you’re ticketing it’s going to spread.”

The state Department of Natural Resources took responsibility for the road about a year ago. “I am a bit embarrassed that nothing has been done with the road since we’ve taken it over,” Russell said.

Community member Tim McDonough said the state needs to recognize the danger there and hire more staff to mitigate the issues and provide law enforcement. Board member Sean Gaffney said he agreed that staffing is a challenge at Chilkoot.

Mulford said she thought the borough should take action.

“If it’s a staffing issue, the borough also has a responsibility here as far as overseeing our commercial operations. We need to figure out how the borough can help…the last thing we want to see is tour permits revoked or not have any new tour permits or have such stringent restrictions you can’t have a successful business,” Mulford said.

Russell said this summer the department plans to patch potholes and paint lines on the road to designate the edges of the road and preferred parking areas.

Board member Diana Lapham said she hadn’t heard reports about the effectiveness of bear monitors stationed at the river.

“I don’t want to see a bear get killed out there because of a human error,” Lapham said.

Russell said there are normally at least two people at the river, out of three state staff and Chilkoot Bear Foundation volunteers, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week from July 4 through mid-September.

Foundation president Pam Randles said volunteers also attend the spring training and work with Russell to manage people and educate them about bear safety. Wooton suggested a volunteer spend time in the visitor center to talk to incoming tourists.

The tourism board also discussed how tourists could be better educated about bear safety. Russell said there is no good place on the road to distribute written information. He said the booth that was rumored to be installed near the entry gate last year will not be installed this year.

“Eventually the state would like to move towards a day-use fee in the area,” Russell said. “The legislature is asking us to be more self-supported in our budgets. The gate as far as I know is staying.”

Russell said the department will create additional signage for the area in more than one language, and the board recommended the borough create educational brochures.

Russell said the state will not move forward with work on bear platforms until 2019 but is pursuing grant opportunities for road improvements.

“As far as I know no work is going to be done this year, and it seems to be getting pushed back year after year, which is frustrating,” Russell said.

Harriet Brouillette, tribal administrator for the Chilkoot Indian Association, said the organization has transportation funds to help pay for an elevated walkway for tourists. Brouillette said the association is also willing to assist the state with signage.

Mayor Jan Hill said Alaska State Parks director Ethan Tyler is organizing a community meeting in Haines in late April to further discuss Chilkoot road issues.