Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Assembly weighs Chilkoot congestion during tour permit approval hearing


April 19, 2018 | View PDF

The Haines Borough Assembly wrestled with the issue of Chilkoot corridor congestion last week before approving a new tour permit.

Increased human traffic on the road has led to potentially dangerous encounters with bears. An Alaska Department of Fish and Game technician quit his job last year after a crowd of bear viewers near the Chilkoot River weir ignored warning signs and ventured too close to a bear, pushing it toward him.

Mozeon Alaska Charters applied for a new tour that offers private boat charters and land tours. Co-owner Heather Sanborne said they will take guests to Chilkoot Lake and along the river. She said while they plan to fish along some waterways, they won’t be fishing in Chilkoot Lake or the river.

“We would like to be able to show them the salmon run,” Sanborne said. “We understand the pressure on the area and the number of people that go into the area. We don’t have much interest being there in those high traffic times. It would take away from the experience.”

Assembly member Heather Lende cited concerns about adding more congestion to an already crowded area. She said part of the assembly’s job when issuing tour permits is protecting current tours, and that adding more traffic could hurt established businesses.

Lende motioned to disallow Mozeon guests from exiting tour vans along the Chilkoot River. “That’s still adding to the congestion,” Lende said. “It’s still not solving the problem. I recognize that. But at some point, we have to take some responsibility for the goose that’s laying the golden egg for our tour industry and we don’t want to kill it.”

Assembly member Sean Maidy agreed and said the assembly “should start restricting everybody on this one specific path, that’s a huge nuisance, as they come up and then, as the problem dissipates over time, we can start reopening it to people as they come up.”

Assembly member Tom Morphet said adding restrictions to a random tour would be bad public policy. “We need to take a comprehensive look at who we’re going to start restricting out there,” Morphet said. “Until we do that I don’t think it’s fair to start because this one happened to land on our desk today.”

Borough officials will be meeting with representatives from Alaska State Parks to discuss overcrowding issues on April 25 at 7 p.m. Mayor Jan Hill said the assembly should wait to begin discussion until after that meeting. “Perhaps we will meet as a body and look at the whole picture not just one particular tour.”

The bulk of the assembly agreed and Lende’s motion failed 2-4.

The assembly unanimously approved the new tour permit.

The Tourism Advisory Board met last month to discuss the issue. At that meeting, Alaska State Parks ranger Travis Russell said the bulk of the problems result from independent travelers, not commercial tours. Russell said he issued five or six warnings a day last summer for people to move their cars. The board recommended the borough hire an assistant to help Russell enforce the rules.

Tourism Director Carolann Wooton told the board that people have written unfavorable comments about the area in blogs and that others have lodged complaints at the visitor center.

Sanborne said she and her husband have operated their fishing charter tours out of Skagway since 2014 but wanted to move their business from that community because they disliked the “turn and burn” culture.

“This year what we would like to do is bring all of our operations down to Haines and provide our charter just out of Haines,” Sanborne said.


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