National Park ServiceU.S. Department of the Interior
Partnership header Making music at the Ashville festival, Blue Ridge Parkway
International Fee Operation

Description: Considered "the trip of a lifetime" for many history buffs and long distance hikers, the Chilkoot Trail is well known worldwide. They are following the route Tlingit traders used to cross the pass. During the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898 stampeders struggled with their required "ton of goods" along this same route. Rich in archeological resources as well as natural diversity and scenic splendor, the trail challenges hikers and provides a rich recreational experience. The beginning of the trail climbs from rich riparian zones along the Taiya River up to the Golden Stairs of Chilkoot Pass. At the pass, hikers cross the Canadian border and descend through alpine, sub alpine and boreal forest to Bennett, British Columbia.

In 1998, through coordinated executive proclamations issued by U.S. President William J. Clinton and Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, the Chilkoot Trail National Historical Site of Canada, and other related sites were afforded the recognition of "International Historical Park" status. In 2003, the National Park Service (NPS) entered into a unique partnership with Parks Canada to cooperatively collect certain recreation user fees for both agencies. The venture builds on a previously established interagency backcountry reservation and permit system for the 33-mile, international Chilkoot Trail. The popular backpacking trail begins in Dyea, Alaska and ends at Lake Bennett, British Columbia. This cooperative venture required establishing new methodologies and merging two unique fee collection systems to meet the needs of both agencies and their respective goals and policies while remaining "customer" friendly towards the approximately 3,000 hikers that utilize the trail each year.

The NPS and Parks Canada actually began coordinating efforts on the Chilkoot Trail over twenty years earlier. In 1997, the partner agencies jointly established the Trail Center in Skagway, Alaska to introduce visitors to safe hiking practices and to each agency's respective backcountry use policies, and to issue permits for backcountry camping. It was in the same year that Parks Canada implemented a recreation use fee for hiking the Canadian side of the trail. NPS eventually followed suite with a similar user fee in 2003.

In anticipation of the new NPS fee, the two agencies met to discuss implementing a coordinated fee collection system. Questions were raised regarding U.S./Canadian currency exchange, collection and handling of U.S. and Canadian funds, equitable participation by each agency in the operation, and potential for duplicating efforts while trying to remain distinct. Prior international cooperation and legislation, coupled with common goals on both sides of the border, provided for a surprisingly smooth merger between the two park collection operations.

Parks Canada contributed full-time staff, a computer reservations and accounting system, and significant publications support. The NPS provided visitor use assistants, furnished office space in Skagway, radio communications for contact with field staff, and a fee safe.

Concerns regarding visitor acceptance of the new U.S. fee in 2003 were soon dispelled by a stable number of hikers and regular public expressions of surprise that the NPS hadn't charged fees sooner. The Chilkoot Trail received approximately 3,100 hikers in 2003, an increase of more than 100 hikers over the previous season. The joint U.S./Canadian fee was $50 CDN for hiking the entire trail, of which the U.S. portion was $15 CDN (approximately $11 US). The NPS fee amount was based upon comparability reviews, while the Canadian fee was more a function of operating costs targeted for recovery.

Geographic area covered: The 13,000-acre Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park includes 15 restored historical buildings dating from the 1890's to early 1900's. The park also administers the first 17 miles of the Chilkoot Trail and a smaller portion of the White Pass Trail. Included in the park is a portion of the Dyea Townsite at the foot of the Chilkoot Trail. Parks Canada administers the remaining 16 miles of the Chilkoot Trail from the international border atop the Chilkoot Pass to the end of the trail at Lake Bennett.

List of Partners and Relationships: Parks Canada/Chilkoot Trail National Historic Site and the National Park Service/Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park.

Accomplishments to date:

  1. Established the International Interagency Trail Center in Skagway, Alaska, where staffs from both agencies brief hikers, collect fees, provide area recreation information to cruise ship visitors, and serve as limited dispatch for field radio communications. The Trail Center enables visitors a "one stop" approach to hiking across the border rather than having to clear customs at the pass or at the end of the hike.
  2. Developed a joint fee collection and permit reservation system that tracks accounting information and regulates the flow of hiker traffic. The computer program maintains levels of hikers consistent with established capacities at each campground on the trail. Parks Canada operates a toll-free telephone point of contact for reservations in Whitehorse, Yukon; reservations are taken 9 months each year beginning in January.
  3. Both agencies consult closely to maintain, as much as possible, consistent policies and operational efforts. Where agency management directives differ, we work well together to inform the public about these differences, thereby minimizing potential hiker conflicts on the trail. Hikers must understand the differences in agency policies, before getting on the trail. The Trail Center briefing, later reinforced by a ranger program at Sheep Camp, has significantly reduced the potential confusion with respect to differences in agency policies.
  4. Attained International Park Designation in 1998 during the Klondike Gold Rush Centennial Celebration at Bennett.
  5. Each agency alternates hosting responsibility for annual Rough Terrain Rescue workshops, including such topics as avalanche rescue, low and high angle rope rescue system, emergency medical scenarios, and steep slope travel on snow and ice. Joint training fosters strong working relationships on the trail and during rescue operations.

Key success factors:

  1. Common agency goals and interests that transcend the international boundary.
  2. Semi-annual coordination meetings between NPS and Parks Canada and ongoing communications among respective park staff and leadership.
  3. A commitment among park staff and leadership to ensure a strong partnership and a seamless visitor services operation.
  4. As a new and unique venture, there were very few political and governmental constraints hindering the process.
  5. There has been a positive synergy at the core of the partnership between NPS and Parks Canada. Each agency is recognized for contributing distinguished strengths to the partnership.

Obstacles that were overcome:

  1. Foreign currency exchange has been a minor challenge, but all parties have largely overcome the inconveniences thanks to the predominance of visitors using charge cards to make payments.
  2. Minor differences in management policies, have primarily been addressed at the operational level by adjusting procedures accordingly.
  3. At the operations level in the Trail Center, it has been sometimes difficult to establish parallel, but cooperative chains of command, since the parks are a partnership with two supervisors and staffs from separate agencies and nations. The operational staffs generally problem-solve with the understanding that senior management expects a mutually beneficial outcome.
  4. Canadian law requires that government services in their national parks be available in both French and English language. Hence, Trail Center printed materials relating to the Chilkoot Trail are bilingual; equivalent French language services are generally provided by the Parks Canada employee onsite or by phoning Parks Canada staff in Whitehorse, Yukon. Remarkably though, the Center's highest demand for non-english language service is from Europeans speaking German, leading to the development of limited German language materials by NPS.

Most important lessons learned to date:

  1. Political and procedural boundaries need not prevent a park from trying something new or working toward a common interest in a partnership that will benefit the park, the resources, and the visitor.
  2. As in any partnership, a cooperative attitude and willingness to sometimes compromise is essential. There must be a sharing of national pride and funds in the services and communications with the public.
  3. An administrative record is important, so as to maintain a documented history of the process, support, and achievements.

What would you do differently next time: When the respective national parks were established there was a need to manage visitor use along the entire trail corridor in a consistent and responsible manner. From the very beginning, the U.S. and Canadian governments envisioned that an international park would be necessary to accomplish this goal. The partnership process evolved over the years through the natural desires of the partners to realize their original visions. The only thing that might have been done better would have been more upfront planning and scheduling of the partnership activities. Still, the timing for each agency probably would not have been in-sync to result in much improvement in the process. For instance, Parks Canada's agency politics and governmental procedures prepared them to charge a user fee several years before NPS.

Suggested resource materials(related to the case study): "A Hiker's Guide to the Chilkoot Trail"

For more information:

Name: Reed McCluskey
Affiliation: Chief Ranger, Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park
Phone/Fax: 907-983-9218

Partnership category(ies) (check all that apply)

Fundraising __; Capital Improvements__; Facility Management __; Trails _X_; Design __; Program Delivery __; Visitor Services _X_; Tenant Organizations __; Concessioners __; Natural Resources Management/Restoration __; Cultural Resources __; Education/Interpretation __; Arts __; Information Services _X_; Transportation __; Mutual Aid _X_; Fire Management __; Planning __; Tourism __; Community Relations __;

Other __X__ Fee Collection

Prepared by: Tim Steidel Date posted: 7/6/04
Phone: 907-983-9225

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View from the international boundary atop the Chilkoot Pass looking into Canada
Joint operations during rough terrain rescue training
Joint operations during rough terrain rescue training
Joint operations in the Trail Center
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