Southeast Alaska village wants to build tourism industry from scratch as logging fades
A Tlingit village in Southeast Alaska plans to turn into a cruise destination to create a new economic opportunity as logging fades in the area.
The Alaska Native Village Society in Klawock is working with other Native societies to install a relatively inexpensive floating dock and other upgrades to receive cruise ships in the village starting in a year, said project managers.
Klawock is on Prince of Wales Island, about 700 miles southeast of Anchorage. Alaska’s first cannery was built here more than a century ago, and harvesting of the ancient trees continues, although much less than before.
Project officials model the proposal after that of Hoonah, another southeastern village that has turned into a cruise destination.
It plans to start with basic facilities like the floating dock, said Mary Edenshaw, operations manager of Klawock Heenya, the Aboriginal village company. Klawock is home to around 700 people, she said.
The ships will create opportunities for small business owners, wood carvers and other artisans, she said. Tour guides can transport guests to see the village’s wildlife and historic totem park, or visit other sites on the island’s road network.
“It will create jobs, when jobs are in danger of disappearing,” Edenshaw said.
The plans come after Sealaska, the area’s Alaska Native Society, announced last year that it was ending its decades-old logging operations that centered on Prince of Wales Island. Wales. The large indigenous society wanted to pursue more sustainable activities, it said last year.
Matt Carle, a spokesman for Sealaska, said Klawock’s plans can promote economic development not only in Klawock but in other villages in Prince Wales of Island.
The island is so remote that many people never stop there, he said.
“Whenever you travel to Alaska, it takes a day or two to get off the beaten path and really experience the rich and vibrant Alaskan Native culture,” Carle said. “But in this case, people can literally get off the ship and see this, and it’s really unique.”
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The growing focus on tourism in Klawock comes two years after the COVID-19 pandemic halted most cruises to the state.
In south-central Alaska, efforts are underway in Seward and Whittier to build new docks that will add to the influx of visitors to these towns.
Tiny Klawock plans to accommodate relatively small cruise ships that bring around 600 people, Edenshaw said. Oceania Cruises plans to make the inaugural call next May, she said.
Klawock Mayor Don Nickerson said most residents support the idea of the village corporation. He heard that Klawock would be overrun with people, but he thinks Klawock Heenya will manage the guests so that won’t be a problem, he said.
Nickerson said the village needs this opportunity. Logging opportunities have shrunk and salmon fishing is also struggling, he said.
“I really think it will boost our economy,” he said. “It was a booming community in the 80s and 90s and part of the 2000s, and it all disappeared.”
The city’s weavers and carvers, including young people learning from elders, will be able to sell their work and share their talents, he said. It will be an authentic cultural experience compared to larger ports like Juneau, he said.
“There is a lot of talent and history on our island,” he said. “Nothing will be made, and everything will be man-made.”
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Klawock Heenya is working on the project with Na-Dena`, an Alaska Native business focused on cultural tourism in Alaska.
Na-Dena said in a statement last week that the Port of Klawock can accept cruise ships from both north and south.
“With two separate fjord entrances, sailing in and out of the harbor affords cruisers panoramic views of wildlife-rich archipelagos, dramatic mountains and lush islands,” the statement read.
Na-Dena` consists of Huna Totem and Doyon. Huna Totem is the Hoonah village society that has made Icy Strait Point a cruise destination known for its ecological and cultural values. After starting with a small floating dock in 2004, Icy Strait Point can now handle two huge cruise ships at once, each bringing thousands of guests, with amenities that include a giant zipline and high-speed gondolas that replace the buses.
Doyon is the regional Alaska Native Interior Society that offers bus tours of the Denali National Park and Preserve, where it has a lodge nearby.
Na-Dena will work with Klawock to emphasize its traditions and values, Russell Dick, president of Huna Totem, said in a statement about the project.
Klawock project officials declined to provide cost estimates.
The floating dock will be anchored at a former timber loading dock that now only sees a handful of ships a year through a private logging company, project officials said.
The village will soon build the wharf and other facilities, Edenshaw said. Drinking water and toilets will be a construction priority.
“We’ll have to start with the plumbing,” Edenshaw said. “There is electricity at the wharf, but we never had to worry about how many people come to that area.”