It’s no secret this is going to be tough summer for tourism businesses. Like many businesses, Gastineau Guiding makes our income for a full year of operations in just a few short months. We recognize that the current conditions mean that it won’t be right for many people to visit Alaska this summer or patronize our business. In the meantime, we see an opportunity to put seasonal employees to work and improve our community at the same time.
During the Great Depression, faced with vast unemployment, the federal government created the Civilian Conservation Corp. Young Americans worked on some of our most famous and enduring public recreation infrastructure, including transportation and infrastructure improvements in both the Chugach and Tongass National Forests. As a tourism business, we still rely on many of these trails and public facilities today to share the grandeur of Alaska with our visitors. We also don’t want to wait until everyone is unemployed: Federal investment now would allow tour companies and employees to join a CCC-inspired effort, saving businesses as well as jobs. The danger is that we lose not only job, but the businesses too.
Our trails, campgrounds, facilities have a large maintenance back log. Recreation infrastructure needs some love. The tourism sector has always supported these investments, but the truth has always been that, with shrinking funds and staffing, the back log has continued to grow. With Congress’ plans to appropriate more relief funding, investing in a CCC revival would allow us to capitalize on having the time and the staff to get the job done. Let’s put it to good use.
Who better to do this work than Alaskan guides? We know and love these trails already. We know what it is like to work in Alaska’s tough weather and terrain. The CCC showed just how much one skilled trail builder could accomplish with willing hands to shovel gravel. As we slowly return to normal, trail work can be accomplished outdoors, with appropriate distancing and with workers from within the community.
Like all Alaskans, we are looking forward to welcoming visitors to Alaska when it is safe for our communities and our guests. In the short term we can keep employees on the payroll and our doors open for next season’s business. Long term, we’ll have done good work on the trails that will make Alaska a great place to live and a great place to visit.
• Sierra Gadaire is general manager for Gastineau Guiding Company.