National Park Service

State of the Park Reports

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

Executive Summary

Smuggler's Cove at Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park
Smuggler's Cove at Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park

The mission of the National Park Service is to preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of national parks for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. NPS Management Policies (2006) state that "The Service will also strive to ensure that park resources and values are passed on to future generations in a condition that is as good as, or better than, the conditions that exist today."

As part of the stewardship of national parks for the American people, the NPS has begun to develop State of the Park reports to assess the overall status and trends of each park's resources. The NPS will use this information to improve park priority setting and to synthesize and communicate complex park condition information to the public in a clear and simple way.

The purpose of this State of the Park report for Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park is to:

  1. Provide to visitors and the American public a snapshot of the status and trend in the condition of a park's priority resources and values;
  2. Summarize and communicate complex scientific, scholarly, and park operations factual information and expert opinion using non-technical language and a visual format;
  3. Highlight park stewardship activities and accomplishments to maintain or improve the State of the Park;
  4. Identify key issues and challenges facing the park to help inform park management planning.

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"Gold!" is what the headlines read in 1897, starting the Klondike Gold Rush. Thousands, hoping to ease the woes of economic depression, sold farms, dropped businesses, and boarded ships to follow their dreams north. Today, Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park (KLGO) commemorates the bravery of the stampeders who voyaged north by protecting the trails, historic boomtowns and buildings of the Klondike Gold Rush era. The purpose of KLGO is to preserve in public ownership for the benefit and inspiration of the people of the United States, the historic structures, trails, artifacts and landscapes and stories associated with the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898.

Significance statements express why the park unit's resources and values are important enough to warrant national park unit designation. Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park is significant because the park:

  • Commemorates a great human drama that caught the attention of the world, and transformed the demographics, culture, and environment of Alaska and the Yukon.
  • Preserves an integral link in a ribbon of sites that connects the places, events, and resources of the Gold Rush, extending across the international border from Seattle to Dawson and beyond.
  • Provides outstanding and diverse opportunities for visitors to retrace the steps of the gold rush stampeders, and in so doing, gain personal insight into the motivations, adversities, impacts and significance of the event.
  • Fosters preservation of the resources within two National Historical Landmarks of two principal American boomtowns of the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897–1898, the most popular routes to the Klondike gold fields, and the most vivid reminders of the struggle and determination of the stampeders.
  • Fosters an understanding of the physical and biological processes and associated unique flora and fauna of the Northern Lynn Canal, where subarctic, alpine, coastal and boreal ecosystems converge within the Taiya and Skagway river valleys.

The items below provide examples of stewardship activities and accomplishments by park staff and partners of Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park to maintain or improve the condition of park resources and values for this and future generations.

Natural Resources

  • Four weather stations have been installed in the park, all of which will be operational by 2013. The weather stations collect information that will be used to study climate changes throughout the area and contribute information to a larger regional dataset.

Cultural Resources

  • Acquisition of the George and Edna Rapuzzi Historic Gold Rush Collection is the park's greatest success story of the past five years. The Rasmuson Foundation donation of the George and Edna Rapuzzi Historic Gold Rush Collection added three gold rush era buildings to the park's holdings, including notorious Jefferson "Soapy" Smith's Parlor and the first YMCA building in Alaska, as well as thousands of historic objects from the gold rush.
  • The park successfully launched Artifact ID days in 2012. This extremely popular program asked local residents to assist the NPS curator in identifying "mystery objects" from the George and Edna Rapuzzi Historic Gold Rush Collection. Because many of the objects are industrial in nature, this program attracted several elderly men who were able to identify car and train parts and other unique artifacts.

Visitor Experience

  • The Junior Ranger program and Education and Outreach Program have been significantly enhanced over the last few years, and are reaching more students and young people than ever before. Several activities are available, including an environmental education program designed for grades 3–5, Ranger-led excursions with local teenagers to hike the Chilkoot Trail, Junior Ranger activity center using iPads and interactive staff, and a First Bloom garden that involves local children in design and maintenance of a native plant garden in the heart of Skagway.
  • Interpretive staff developed a very successful living history drama program that is carried out on NPS grounds.

Partnerships

  • A Welcome sign at the entrance to the city of Skagway is being completed in partnership with the Municipality of Skagway Borough, the Skagway Traditional Council, and the NPS. This new sign will prominently display each agency's logo and allow photo opportunities for the hundreds of thousands of visitors who will see it each year.
  • The park boasts an ongoing successful partnership with Parks Canada as part of the International Klondike Gold Rush Historical Park. Parks Canada is responsible for Chilkoot Trail hiking permits, and works cooperatively with the park staff in educating hikers for responsible hiking practices in bear country.
  • The park is an active participant in Skagway community activities, including hosting a float in the 4th of July parade, open house during the Yuletide Christmas events, and volunteering for a variety of community activities supporting the school.

Infrastructure

  • The park trails crew has made significant safety improvements to the Chilkoot trail by creating a more durable surface and repairing hazardous sections of the trail.
  • The park is "greener" by purchasing several electric vehicles to use in the Skagway and Dyea area.

Staffing

  • The park has assembled a staff of highly competent and motivated individuals who work together to advance the mission of the NPS and KLGO.
  • Recent changes to hiring authorities have allowed the park to attract local residents to jobs that might otherwise have gone to non-residents, thus ensuring continued community support for KLGO and its mission.

Natural Resources

There are numerous potential challenges that face the park in the immediate future relating to the park's natural resources. 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 that could catastrophically and severely impact the lower portion of the Chilkoot Trail, and potentially destroy the remains of the Dyea historic townsite and park infrastructure in Dyea. External developments also continue to remain a threat to the park's resources.

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 that support the visitor experience in the park. These collections, combined with the opportunity to visit the historic buildings and ruins that are represented in this body of historic records, provide a unique visitor experience. Maintaining the integrity of the historic objects and structures of the gold rush for the enjoyment of the visitor continues to be a challenge the park faces into the future.

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 with 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.

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. Enhanced services could include Rangers on board cruise ships and expanded digital communications programs that take advantage of newly developing technologies. In addition, continued partnership opportunities with Youth programs, whether YCC, SCA or VIP programs can provide rewarding experiences for youth while enticing a new generation to NPS service.

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.

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, especially in the face of changing ADA/ABA requirements, sustainable building practices, and the need to improve the efficiencies of heating and cooling systems.

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.

Summary Table

The Status and Trend symbols used in the summary table below and throughout this report are summarized in the following key. The background color represents the current condition status, the direction of the arrow summarizes the trend in condition, and the thickness of the outside line represents the degree of confidence in the assessment. In some cases, the arrow is omitted because data are not sufficient for calculating a trend (e.g., data from a one-time inventory or insufficient sample size).

Condition Status Trend in Condition Confidence in
Assessment
Condition of resource warrants significant concern Warrants Significant Concern Condition is improving Condition is Improving High confidence in the assessment High
Condition of resource warrants moderate concern Warrants Moderate Concern Condition is unchanging Condition is Unchanging Medium confidence in the assessment Medium
Resource is in good condition Resource is in Good Condition Condition is deteriorating Condition is Deteriorating Low confidence in the assessment Low

Examples of how the symbols should be interpreted:

Resource is in good condition; condition is improving; high confidence in the assessment. Resource is in good condition; condition is improving; high confidence in the assessment.
Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; condition is unchanging; medium confidence in the assessment. Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; condition is unchanging; medium confidence in the assessment.
Condition of resource warrants significant concern; trend in condition is unknown or not applicable; low confidence in the assessment. Condition of resource warrants significant concern; trend in condition is unknown or not applicable; low confidence in the assessment.
Priority Resource or Value Condition Status/Trend Rationale
Natural Resources
Climate Resource is in good condition; condition is unchanging; medium confidence in the assessment. Annual average high and low temperatures in Skagway have increased during the 100-year period of record from 1898 to 2010. Lows are increasing at a rate of 1.9 ± 0.4 °F/century, and highs are increasing at a rate of 1.2 ± 0.7 °F/century. Learn more »
Air Quality Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; condition is unchanging; high confidence in the assessment. Concentrations of nitrogen, sulfur, and lead from lichens (which are sensitive receptors for air pollution and are used worldwide as biomonitors of air quality) in the Chilkoot Unit of the park are well below thresholds of concern, but some samples in the Skagway Unit exceed the thresholds for sulfur and lead. Learn more »
Geologic Resources Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; condition is unchanging; medium confidence in the assessment. The land near the mouth of the Taiya River is rising at ≈1.8 cm/year, which is causing incised rivers, over steepened banks, and threatening the historic townsite of Dyea and park infrastructure. Learn more »
Water Quantity and Quality Resource is in good condition; trend in condition is unknown or not applicable; high confidence in the assessment. Water chemistry and streamflow measurements for the Taiya River that flows through the park are consistent with a healthy glacially-influenced river. Learn more »
Freshwater and Marine Contaminants Resource is in good condition; trend in condition is unknown or not applicable; high confidence in the assessment. Measurements of mercury, PCBs, and DDT in tissues of salmon taken from the Taiya River, and mercury concentrations in streambed sediments, are well below any thresholds of concern for human health or aquatic organisms. Monitoring of PCBs, PAH, and mercury contaminant levels in bay mussels has found that the nearshore marine environment adjacent to the Chilkoot Unit and Taiya River delta is extremely clean. Learn more »
Flora Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; condition is unchanging; high confidence in the assessment. KLGO has one of the highest numbers of lichenized and lichenicolous fungus species per unit area ever reported, with 766 recorded taxa within its 53 km2 area. The 2010 study discovered one lichen genus, four lichen species, and one species of lichenicolous fungus that were new to science, and added 196 taxa to the list of those known for Alaska. In 2012, 21 acres in the park were infested with invasive plant species. Tomentoses root disease, gall rust, and needle disease have been found in lodgepole pine in the Dyea town site area. Learn more »
Fauna Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; condition is unchanging; high confidence in the assessment. The number of boreal toads (Bufo borealis) found in the park during 2010–2012 indicates an increase in breeding activity, but overall numbers are low compared to previous years, and chytrid fungus disease has been found in the toad population. A recent species list published by the Skagway Bird Club (2010) documented 201 bird species. The number of breeding bird species and bird diversity in recent years using three monitoring methods appears to be consistent with values reported since each survey began. KLGO is an important stop-over site for migratory coastal birds before they fly further north to their breeding grounds, with a greater number of species observed in the spring compared to summer and fall. Learn more »
Cultural Resources
Archeological Resources Resource is in good condition; condition is unchanging; high confidence in the assessment. Forty (40) of the 48 (83%) known archeological sites in the park are in good condition. 70% of the 48 recorded sites in the park are adequately documented for National Register purposes. Surface archeological surveys with limited testing have been completed for Dyea and the Chilkoot Trail Unit. Extensive archeological excavation on park property has been completed in the Skagway Unit. Extremely limited archeological surface survey with no testing has been conducted in the White Pass Unit. Historical archeological resources in the park are suffering from natural decay and river erosion. Learn more »
Cultural Anthropology Resource is in good condition; condition is unchanging; high confidence in the assessment. The park is working cooperatively with the Skagway Traditional Council, the Carcross/Tagish First Nations, the Chilkoot Indian Association, Chilkat Indian Village, and the Tlingit Haida Council to increase our understanding of ethnographic resources and uses of the park. An Ethnographic Overview and Assessment study was completed in 2004, and the park continues to actively pursue information relating to the Stampeders and other participants in the Klondike Gold Rush. Learn more »
Cultural Landscapes Resource is in good condition; condition is improving; high confidence in the assessment. All five (100%) of the park's cultural landscapes (Skagway Historic District, Moore House, White Pass, Chilkoot Trail and Dyea) have accurate, complete, and reliable data from the Cultural Landscape Inventory. Two of the five cultural landscapes are in good condition. One additional cultural landscape will be created when the Soapy Smith Parlor restoration is completed in 2016. Learn more »
Historic Structures Resource is in good condition; condition is unchanging; high confidence in the assessment. The park owns 30 historic structures, 25 of which are buildings. Twenty of the 30 historic structures are listed in good condition. Historic structure reports are completed for all but five of the park's buildings. 84% of the historic structures have adequate National Register documentation, including all of the buildings. Learn more »
History Resource is in good condition; condition is unchanging; high confidence in the assessment. The Klondike Gold Rush is one of the best-documented human dramas in North America. The park has acquired a large number of historical resources from all over the world from people visiting and through research. Recently a Historic Research Plan (Gurcke 2011) was written to best chart a course for acquiring additional historical resources and laying out the historical research needs for the park. Data management for the numerous historical resources in the park is inadequate. Learn more »
Museum Collections Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; condition is improving; medium confidence in the assessment. The park's only collection condition survey was completed more than 15 years ago in 1997. Funding requests have been submitted for collection condition surveys specific to the archeological collection, the archival collection, and the historical collection. Completion of the Rapuzzi Collection inventory is scheduled by the end of FY 2013. Museum staff continues to digitize historic photographs and documents as workload permits, resulting in the digitization of more than 300 written accounts and historical photographs in 2012. However, many historical documents are not easily accessible due to conservation concerns and cataloging backlog. Learn more »
Visitor Experience
Number of Visitors Resource is in good condition; condition is unchanging; high confidence in the assessment. Total number of visitors to the park in 2012 was 854,250, which is similar to the five-year average of 876,872. The Skagway Convention and Visitors Bureau is projecting an increase of 100,000 visitors to Skagway in 2013 based on cruise ship bookings. Learn more »
Visitor Satisfaction Resource is in good condition; condition is unchanging; high confidence in the assessment. Based on the standard visitor satisfaction survey conducted each year, the percent of visitors satisfied in 2012 was 98.0%, similar to the ten-year average of 98.3% for 2001–2011. Learn more »
Interpretive and Education Programs – Talks, Tours, and Special Events Resource is in good condition; condition is unchanging; high confidence in the assessment. KLGO offers excellent interpretive programs in downtown Skagway and in the outer district of Dyea. The Ranger-led Historic Walking Tours reached approximately 30,000 visitors in 2012. In 2012, nearly 15,000 people visited the Junior Ranger Activity Center in the Pantheon Saloon building, and 1,800 Junior Ranger badges were awarded. The park collaborates with the Skagway School District to implement Spring and Fall education programs for Grades 2–5, and partners with local organizations to host a summer teen backpacking trip over the Chilkoot Trail incorporating resource education and stewardship. Learn more »
Sense of Place Resource is in good condition; condition is unchanging; high confidence in the assessment. KLGO is dedicated to providing an authentic experience for its visitors, allowing them to follow in the footsteps of stampeders of 1898 in their epic journey to the Klondike. Visitors gain a sense of the wild west boomtown while touring the Skagway Historic District, in which nearly 20 park buildings have been restored to the gold rush era. Additionally, seven buildings are part of the park's lease-back program in which merchants lease the historic buildings. Learn more »
Interpretive Media – Brochures, Exhibits, Signs, and Website Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; condition is improving; high confidence in the assessment. The park has audio visual exhibits in a number of locations, including ambient sounds, portable tablets for Junior Rangers, and Touch Kiosk Visitor Information stations. A new award-winning park orientation film was completed in 2009. The park museum exhibits are not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and American Barriers Act and are outdated, and are scheduled to be replaced within the next few years. Learn more »
Recreational Activities Resource is in good condition; condition is improving; high confidence in the assessment. The park works collaboratively with Parks Canada to maintain high level of standards in regards to trail condition, safety, education, and authentic experience. Most visitors to Skagway and Dyea are cruise ship passengers who experience the park as part of commercial excursions that include activities such as sight-seeing tours, biking, hiking, rafting, and horseback riding. Learn more »
Accessibility and Visitor Amenities Resource is in good condition; condition is unchanging; high confidence in the assessment. Walking tours in the Skagway Historic District are designed to allow visitors with limited mobility to participate. Assisted listening and closed captioning are available for the park movie and Chilkoot video. Rangers use voice amplifiers during walking tours of the Skagway Historic District to increase audibility. The park hires German, French, and Spanish speakers each year to staff the visitor center and to provide tours. Learn more »
Safety Resource is in good condition; condition is unchanging; high confidence in the assessment. The safety of visitors is a park priority, and the number of safety incidents recorded is small. Park staff provide a comprehensive safety briefing and orientation for permitted hikers during the Chilkoot Trail evening program. Learn more »
Partnerships Resource is in good condition; condition is improving; high confidence in the assessment. The park has also recently revived its Artist in Residence Program in cooperation with Parks Canada, which invites artists to spend time in the park and produce visitor friendly multi-media projects. 8,443 volunteer hours were contributed in 2012. Klondike Gold Rush NHP provides an authentic backdrop for the business community and strives to be a good neighbor. The park has an excellent partnership with Parks Canada for co-management of the Chilkoot Trail. Learn more »
Park Infrastructure
Overall Facility Condition Index Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; condition is deteriorating; high confidence in the assessment. The 157 assets at KLGO have an overall FCI (Facility Condition Index) of 0.112, which is Fair based on industry and NPS standards. Seventeen park-owned historic buildings in the Skagway Historic District have been restored, and seven buildings are leased back to proprietors and used as shops while maintaining the historic setting. Funding requests have been submitted to improve the Old Dyea Town Site and Lost Lake roads, which are in poor condition. Learn more »
Energy Consumption Resource is in good condition; condition is improving; high confidence in the assessment. Energy usage (BTUs per gross square footage of buildings) at the park in 2012 was 49% lower than the average for the previous 4 years (Source: NPS Annual Energy Report). To reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to save energy, the park operates and maintains a small fleet of electric vehicles that are powered by the glacier-fed hydroelectric power plant. Learn more »

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Last Updated: September 19, 2014 Contact Webmaster