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Yakutat’s 1st cruise ship marks effort to diversify interests

By Heather Hintze, KTVA

YAKUTAT – Cruise ships are a common sight in Southeast ports. For the first time, however, one anchored in Yakutat over the weekend.

Silversea’s Silver Discoverer unloaded about 90 people for four hours on July 11. It’s part of Yakutat’s effort to diversify its interests.

“We’ve been trying to figure out how we can boost our economy in the community and this is one of the first steps,” said Bert Adams, a member of the Yakutat Tlingit Tribe.

The arrival of the first cruise ship took months of planning and more than two dozen volunteers to coordinate.

Since the small community of only 600 doesn’t have the infrastructure like other port cities in Alaska, organizers came up with different ways to keep guest entertained, like custom tours around the town.

“That’s what makes us unique. You can go to Ketchikan and see the same store in Juneau or Sitka. Or you can come here and meet a live Alaskan,” said City Manager Jon Erickson.

Passengers stopped at Leonard’s Landing Lodge to get a look at fish processing and bring a little boost to the gift shop as they stocked up on Alaskan souvenirs.

“I’m just so incredibly impressed at how welcoming they’ve been,” said Susan Walsh from Texas. “So many of the community came down to the waterfront to welcome us.”

The Yakutat community isn’t what it used to be. The town has lost almost half its residents in the past year as the commercial fishing industry has slowed down. The Situk River still draws in sports fishermen but residents say that’s not enough to keep the economy afloat.

Candy Hills, known around town as “Fat Grandma,” has owned her store for two decades. She’s excited to see the city trying a new revenue outlet.

“I’ve said for years Yakutat is the best kept secret in Alaska,” Hills said. “And I truly believe that. We just love sharing our community. Hopefully people will come here and drop some of their money because we certainly need it.”

Silversea has one more trip planned to Yakutat on July 28. During the 2016 season, four ships are slated for arrival. Bringing in the cruise ships isn’t just about the money though — it’s also about sharing the Tlingit culture with visitors.

“We want people to care about who we are and understand that we still live and breathe the same way we did a thousand years ago,” said Victoria Demmert, president of the Yakutat Tlingit Tribe.

The Mount St. Elias Dancers performed traditional songs in full regalia to the delight of the out-of-towners. Passengers say it’s that kind of experience that makes Yakutat even more special.

“This is so different than the commercialism you will find in other Alaskan cities, that are beautiful in their own right,” said Walsh, who’s been on two other major cruises to the 49th State. “But this is the true heartfelt, the heart of Alaska, like we like to believe, the Last Frontier.”

As they returned to the ship to set sail for other Alaskan ports, passengers say they left a little piece of their heart in the sleepy Southeast town.

Click here for the video report.

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