National Park Service

State of the Park Reports

State of the Park Report for
Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park

Chapter 4 - Key Issues and Challenges for Consideration in Management Planning

Train in the White Pass Unit approaching the White Pass Summit.
Train in the White Pass Unit approaching the White Pass Summit.

In the fall of 2011, the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park (KLGO) Leadership Team completed the 2012–2016 KLGO Strategic Plan. Based on the NPS Call to Action Plan, and the park's recently completed Foundation Statement (2010), the strategic plan incorporated priorities from the park's Resource Stewardship Strategy (2011) and Long-range Interpretive Plan (2005), and identified new goals based on emerging technologies and emphases on connecting people to parks in non-traditional ways. The Leadership Team identified priority objectives and action items to guide park management over the next five years. The draft strategic plan was then shared with the entire staff to incorporate additional ideas for managing the park's natural and cultural resources and developing new opportunities for visitors. The KLGO Strategic Plan was reviewed at the beginning of the State of the Parks report process, and the park's leadership team determined that the objectives and work plan elements are still current and provide valid management direction. The objectives and action items in the Strategic Plan guide the following discussion.

Natural Resources

The Chilkoot Trail and Dyea and White Pass units and the Skagway and Taiya River valleys host considerable biodiversity that make the natural resources at KLGO unique in Southeast, Alaska. For example, a recent survey of lichens resulted in the finding that the park contains the greatest diversity of lichens and lichenicolous fungi per unit area ever reported globally at this latitude. Lichen are particularly important to study because they provide critical air quality information for park management purposes. Baseline studies are planned for anadromous fish, eulachon (smelt), resident bat populations, arthropods, and the Columbia spotted frog. These studies, along with others, are being completed in conjunction with the Southeast Alaska Inventory and Monitoring Network for identifying and tracking the health of the natural resources in the park.

There are numerous potential challenges that face the park in the immediate future of note: One potential threat to the Chilkoot Trail and Dyea unit is a glacial moraine outburst flood from Nourse Lake which is located outside of park boundaries on BLM lands. If a catastrophic failure of the end moraine were to occur, it is anticipated to represent a 500-year plus flood event that would severely impact the lower portion of the Chilkoot Trail, and potentially destroy the remains of the Dyea historic townsite and park infrastructure in Dyea. The park staff continues to study and monitor the end moraine at Nourse Lake cooperatively with the Municipality of Skagway Borough each year.

External developments that may impact park resources include the potential for introduction of a hydroelectric power generation plant in the West Creek drainage area near Dyea. Hydro power in Dyea may present opportunities for clean energy, but also may affect the soundscape, night skies, and the aquatic environment at the lower Taiya River. The continued increase in mining in the Yukon Interior has the potential to increase truck traffic through Skagway, but not within the Skagway unit. If the railroad is used to transport ore, then both the White Pass and Skagway units have the potential to be affected.

Another continuing threat is from invasive plants and animals: while the park can inventory, treat, and attempt to control invasive species within the park boundaries, it has little or no control on how adjoining land owners manage their properties. Through educational outreach programs, awareness of the impacts of invasive species on native flora and fauna may open new opportunities to work more closely with private landowners.

Cultural Resources

Because the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898 was one of the most photographed and documented events of its kind at that point in history—due to the recent invention and popularization of the camera—the park has a very large collection of historical photos as well as numerous firsthand accounts in the form of diaries and letters of the happenings in Skagway at the turn of the 20th century. In addition, the park owns a significant artifact collection representing the period of significance. Continued preservation of these photographs, archival documents and historical objects and the ability to make them discoverable to the public is of utmost importance. These materials provide the basis for effectively telling the story of the Klondike Gold Rush and the events that preceded and followed the gold rush that forever transformed the demographics, culture, and environment of Alaska and the Yukon.

Updated and expanded museum exhibits, visual storage of artifacts, and enhanced public access to curated photographs, records, and artifacts will allow greater research opportunities to be made available. The expected results would be additional information being shared with the public through popular articles and scientific and scholarly works. The continued challenge is to provide access and present these materials in ways that are discoverable, accessible and relevant to the researchers needs, whether through hands-on access or through multi-media methodologies that are developing.

Baseline information that describes the integrity of historic and archaeological sites is also critical to understanding and managing these unique resources. The completion of the White Pass archaeological inventory and Cultural Landscape report are park priorities, as is the expansion of the Chilkoot Trail survey to cover non-park owned lands. The park units lie with two National Historical Landmarks, both of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, yet very few of the historic buildings and archaeological sites have been evaluated and/or nominated for the National Register of Historic Places as important sites in their own rights.

Preservation of Historic Structures

The park is completing a building plan to address a variety of methods for preserving the historic structures in the park and inspiring the municipality and private landowners to strive for high standards in caring for other gold rush era buildings in the Skagway Historic District that are not owned by the NPS. With limited financial resources, long-term sustainability of historic structures will continue to be a challenge. To date the NPS has been successful with adaptive reuse for administrative purposes and especially the historic leasing program, but some of the structures acquired in the past several years are not well suited for historic leasing because of their location and/or because they require considerable restoration to be useful for administrative purposes.

Since establishment of the park in 1976, the National Park Service has had a critical role in protecting the integrity of the historic district and cultural landscape of downtown Skagway. Many of the historic buildings and land within the historic district are not owned by the National Park Service. The NPS has been directly involved with the Skagway Historic District Commission (HDC), providing the members of the HDC with the subject matter expertise necessary to uphold the historic sense of place that defines this community and drives its economy. In support of this role, the NPS plans to develop and conduct historic preservation workshops for the community. These workshops will provide the public with technical information in historic preservation and an opportunity to discuss preservation challenges with park experts.

New Visitor Opportunities

Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park is the most visited NPS unit in Alaska. Projections for the next several years predict nearly 1 million visitors in Skagway, the vast majority arriving by cruise ship. All visitors who disembark in Skagway will experience the park's Skagway Unit during their visit. The National Park Service provides orientation and information, and a variety of visitor experiences that could be enhanced with additional services. This could begin as cruise ships arrive in Skagway if the NPS could have a ranger on board, provide park literature and information to the shore excursions office, and meet with ship personnel during port familiarization trips to Skagway conducted in the spring.

Continually staying up to date and expanding digital media programs is also a key component in offering new visitor opportunities to a public who may or may not set foot within the park boundaries. Social media and web access to the events and undertakings of the park will be instrumental for increasing visitor knowledge of historical events and understanding scientific and scholarly research related to park resources. Relaying this information digitally will also need to be done in conjunction with interpretive wayside programs in Skagway, Dyea, and on the Chilkoot Trail.

The park is developing additional programming for youths through the YCC, SCA and VIP programs. The goal is to provide work experiences such as internships as well as educational opportunities. While there has been considerable success with the VIP and SCA programs, the youth population base in Skagway is not large, and the challenge is to conduct new programs and opportunities to interest and recruit young, diverse audiences in the local area, within the State of Alaska, and from throughout the United States and the world.

The Chilkoot Trail and Dyea and the White Pass units of Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park could accommodate additional visitor use. The White Pass unit has not yet been formally opened to visitor traffic due to its in situ archaeological resources that have yet to be documented. A baseline archaeological survey scheduled to begin in 2015 will provide the park needed information to prepare a management plan for this relatively unused unit of the park. The use of alternative methods to connect visitors to these areas is being explored by the park's interpretive staff. Traditional waysides are available along the road that parallels the park unit. Radio and cell service are not available.

Supporting additional visitor use in the Chilkoot and Dyea unit may require infrastructure development. Planned improvements are described in the Dyea Area Site Plan EA which is expected to be completed in 2013. This document is based on the Cultural Landscape Treatment Recommendations for Dyea. In concert with improvements in Dyea the park will explore public transportation opportunities between Skagway and Dyea, a critical piece of infrastructure which is lacking.

Partnerships and Community Involvement

A key challenge, which is shared by many other parks, is working with multiple land owners within the park boundaries. Land owners include the State of Alaska, the Municipality of Skagway Borough, and private landowners. In addition, tribal interests are of paramount importance since their history is integrally linked to the land and the gold rush.

As an international park, KLGO works closely with Parks Canada in managing the 33-mile international trail and is immediately affected by changes in management and staffing on the Canadian side of the trail. Recent budget cuts within Parks Canada could affect not only trail operations but also the overall interpretive opportunities related to the gold rush sites from Seattle to Dawson City, Yukon, by reducing the opportunities to collaborate on internationally driven initiatives such as the International Gold Rush Trail designation. Klondike Gold Rush NHP currently enjoys a strong partnership with the Municipality of Skagway Borough and the community which continues to be enhanced as we explore other opportunities for collaboration. For example, KLGO and the Municipality of Skagway Borough work cooperatively to monitor the Nourse Lake end moraine for stability, are looking at the feasibility of providing public transit opportunities to Dyea, and are working with appropriate entities to reduce or eliminate negative bear/human interactions primarily through responsible waste storage and disposal.

KLGO's strategic plan calls for the park to conduct a new economic benefits analysis. This study will provide quantitative information about the park's contributions to the community that can be shared with the park's many partners. Ensuring the preservation of resources for future generations and enhancing every visitor's experience at the park can also be accomplished through partnerships and community involvement. Opportunities to engage the park's commercial operators and other stakeholders who rely on the tourism industry through orientation and education are being explored as a way to strengthen community relationships and public access to park resources.

Park Infrastructure, Safety, and Sustainable Practices

Every year, thousands of modern-day stampeders come to the park to hike up and over the Chilkoot Pass as so many did from 1897–1899. Enhancing and maintaining safety on the trail is a key issue for management.

In Skagway, maintaining the condition of historic structures requires constant attention. Historic boardwalks provide visitors with a sense of place and connect them to the feel of the gold rush, but they also present safety concerns and trip hazards. In addition, most historic structures do not meet current ADA and ABA requirements, nor do they meet modern code for sprinklers and other safety infrastructure. Upgrading offices, museums and other public spaces to meet modern requirements is a major challenge the park is facing in the near future.

The park has worked to improve sustainable practices in recent years. In the fall of 2012, the park Environmental Management Team developed a new EMS Program that will help meet the goals of the NPS Green Parks Plan and improve our ability to share information with staff and the public. One of the greatest sustainability challenges the park faces is increased energy costs. Skagway receives 98% of its electricity from renewable hydroelectric power that does not emit greenhouse gasses, but most of the park's heating is supplied by furnaces operating on fuel oil. As a result, KLGO has the ability to greatly reduce its consumption of fossil fuels and GHG emissions by replacing existing furnaces with electric boilers. However, in doing so, the park's electrical consumption and costs will increase. To offset this increase, reduction in electrical consumption elsewhere in the park must be explored. One option that will reduce energy costs is to replace all traditional light bulbs in park facilities with LED lights. The park is also enhancing its recycling program through a partnership with the Municipality of Skagway Borough and the Skagway Traditional Council.

One sustainable practice that gets little mention is data management. With the increasing reliance on digital data, and a turning away from the traditional paper filing system, it is taking ever-increasing vigilance to keep master copies of reports and files in centrally located places for immediate access by staff or the public. Shared drives offer staff access, but also can provide the opportunity for files to go missing, be altered or re-filed. This is a serious issue that all parks face with no good solutions as of yet.

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Last Updated: March 13, 2014 Contact Webmaster