Legacy of the Gold Rush:
An Administrative History of Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park
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In accordance with the dictates of NPS-28 (the agency's Cultural Resource Management Guideline), an administrative history

describes how a park was conceived and established and how it has been managed to the present day. The park's legislative history and important issues in planning, land acquisition, development, public relations, and other topics of ongoing management concern are emphasized.

This study has endeavored to fulfill those goals as they apply to Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. This park, which was authorized by Congress in a bill signed by President Gerald Ford on June 30, 1976, is composed of four separate units: three units located in and around Skagway, Alaska, and one unit located within the Pioneer Square Historic District in downtown Seattle, Washington. All four units witnessed a flurry of historical activity during the 1897-1899 Klondike Gold Rush period.

This park has several special characteristics which pertain to it. A number of parks, for example, are located in more than one state, and several parks are also composed of more than one distinct unit. But no park has one unit that is so distant from the others. Because of that separation, NPS officials decided shortly after the park's authorization that two superintendents, as well as two administrative staffs, would be necessary. Another factor that makes the park a relative rarity is the location of the park's Skagway unit in the midst of Skagway's business district. This fact has made the NPS, for better or worse, a major influence in Skagway's economic and political life. The park's location along the Canadian border, and the necessity to act in concert with Canadian authorities from time to time, is another aspect of park operations that Klondike shares with few other NPS units.

Because of the park's specialized characteristics, this study has been organized both temporally and spatially. The first four chapters, which describe administrative affairs prior to park authorization, have been organized chronologically. Chapter 1 gives a brief synopsis of the Klondike Gold Rush, with particular attention paid to existing park resources. Chapter 2 covers the long, relatively quiet decades between the gold rush period and 1960. Chapter 3 encompasses the 1960s, when the state, the Federal Government, and the Yukon government all commenced efforts to protect and interpret the resources that remained from the gold rush period. Chapter 4 is primarily concerned with the political and legislative activity during the 1970s that preceded President Ford's signing of the Klondike park bill. Except for brief portions of chapters 1 and 4, the first four chapters deal with events in Skagway and vicinity, both on the U.S. and Canadian sides of the border.

Chapters 5 through 10, which also focus on the Alaska units, have been organized on a geographical basis. Chapter 5, an overview chapter, describes the early days of park administration; in addition, it provides information on issues (such as staff growth, land acquisition, and planning efforts) that concern more than one of the Alaska units. Chapters 6 and 7 provide a chronology of the agency's actions in the Skagway Historic District; Chapter 6 is concerned with the building rehabilitation program, while Chapter 7 discusses NPS's relationship with the City of Skagway and other issues unrelated to its historic buildings. Chapters 8 and 9 discuss administrative issues in the Chilkoot Trail Unit; Chapter 8 focuses on issues in the Dyea area, while Chapter 9 looks at activities in the Chilkoot Trail corridor. Chapter 10 discusses the White Pass Trail Unit.

A chronological format is once again used in chapters 11 and 12, which deal with the Seattle unit. Chapter 11 discusses the planning process which preceded the opening of the visitor center in June 1979, while Chapter 12 is concerned with the operations of the center since then.

The process of researching and writing this administrative history has been long and somewhat convoluted. Work began in the fall of 1987, when Denver Service Center historian Frank Williss was given the job. Williss wrote a task directive and was provided a budget. He was not, however, able to devote time to the project. As a result, Alaska Regional Historian Kate Lidfors asked Sandra Faulkner and William Hanable to work on it. Between June 1988 and September 1989, Faulkner and Hanable traveled to Denver, Skagway, Seattle and to other points in the Puget Sound region. They did so in order to interview personnel that had played a key role in park administration. Neither, however, was able to begin writing the administrative history. The project lay on the shelf until the fall of 1993, when the present author was asked to complete it. The report was completed in draft form in June 1995. Because of the year-long delay in preparing the final report, information in this report on park-related events that occurred during the last fourteen months is incomplete.

When the author began work on the project, he was already somewhat familiar with the park. He served as a seasonal interpreter in Skagway from 1983 through 1985; in addition, he worked as a historian there on various projects from 1984 through 1988. He lived year-round in Skagway from 1983 through 1987. As a result of his residence there, he has had the opportunity to get to know Skagway and its townspeople fairly well. For this, the author makes no apology. Having lived in Skagway for some time, he has had the opportunity to understand, to some extent, why local residents have formed their attitudes about the NPS. The author has made every attempt to allow all sides to express their legitimate viewpoints. Some, particularly agency staff, may feel that the text is biased against the Park Service; those who are unaffiliated with the agency, however, may feel that this document is slanted toward the NPS's point of view. Either of those conclusions, in the author's opinion, is unintentional.

The author has many people to thank for bringing this project to fruition. Sandra Anderson, the senior historian with the Alaska System Support Office, graciously allowed me the time to complete the project. In addition, she and William Hanable conducted interviews with former superintendents and other NPS officials. Former regional historians William E. Brown, Robert L. Spude, and Kate Lidfors should also be thanked, both for project support and for the scores of files they collected over the years, many of which I perused for project data. I'd like to thank Dean Dawson at the Alaska State Archives, Jo Antonson at the State Historic Preservation Office, and Bruce Merrell at Loussac Library for scrounging around and gathering much-needed data. Ted Swem of Evergreen, Colorado, graciously provided information photographs, and Barbara Walton of the Denver Public Library was likewise helpful. And special thanks go to Mike Leach, formerly of the Alaska Division of Lands, who gladly shared his experiences of managing the Chilkoot Trail during the 1960s.

In Skagway, many people deserve thanks. Longtime residents such as Barbara Kalen, Carl Mulvihill, Edith Lee, Andrew Beierly, and the late George Rapuzzi have told me much of what I know about the town's history. Kalen and Mulvihill, along with former Trail of '98 Museum director Glenda Choate, have also graciously offered to proofread portions of the text. I'd also like to thank the park staff, all of whom have been helpful. I'd particularly like to tip my hat to Superintendent Clay Alderson, Cultural Resource Specialist Karl Gurcke, former Chief Ranger Jay Cable, former Ranger Scott Home, and former Interpretive Chief Betsy Duncan-Clark. Throughout the manuscript preparation period, they were subjected to repeated requests for information and somehow remained consistenty patient and courteous. Alderson and Gurcke deserve special thanks, because both read the entire draft and provided many helpful comments. The same helpfulness applies in Seattle, where Superintendent Willie Russell, Administrative Assistant Sue Kiefer, former ranger Mike Gurling, and various currently-employed rangers and technicians have dug through the park files and given freely of their time and talents. And in Whitehorse, I express my deep appreciation to the Parks Canada staff, particularly David Neufeld, Tom Elliot, Bob Lewis, Dan and Debbie Verhalle, and Christine Hedgecock. I thank my wife, the former Candy Wellenhoffer, not only for her constant love and support, but for sharing her knowledge of the Chilkoot, gained by ten years of experience as a warden patrolperson.

I'm quite sure that there are many others that should be included on the above list but I have inadvertently omitted. To all of you, both named and unnamed, I offer my deepest thanks. The project could not have been done without you. To you goes the credit for this volume. For any and all errors that will inevitably surface, I alone am responsible.

Frank B. Norris
Anchorage, Alaska
August 1996

Vicinity Map, Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. Source: NPS, Draft General Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement, Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, June/July 1996, 1.2. (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

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Last Updated: 24-Sep-2000