Dan Kirkwood is the General Manager of Pack Creek Bear Tours
Dan Kirkwood is the General Manager of Pack Creek Bear Tours, a fly-out tour to see brown bears on Admiralty Island.

By Dan Kirkwood

Since the Great Recession, the visitor industry in Southeast Alaska has not only recovered but has grown due to diversification, an influx of small and large ships and an improved economy. This growth and its benefits to our communities can also be attributed to the efforts of some key people who deserve our thanks.

When the tourism industry first began to grow, there was concern in Juneau about preserving the unique character of the town. I remember the iconic “Toe” cartoon depicting a cruise ship accidently towing Juneau behind it. Kirby Day at Princess Cruises led the effort to develop the Tourism Best Management Practices that reduced conflicts and continues to guide positive economic growth. The Juneau Economic Development Council (JEDC) has become an essential hub for collaboration between the industry and government. Through the JEDC, we continue to innovate, resolve differences and improve Juneau for both residents and visitors.

As the U.S. Forest Service has faced cuts and increasing wildfire fighting costs, Sen. Lisa Murkowski has helped to retain and even grow funding for the Forest Service recreation programs that support our businesses. We are grateful for her efforts that have added $2 million in funding for the agency and will improve its ability to manage and enhance the visitor industry. We look forward to working with the senator to continue to strengthen these recreation programs that benefit visitors, business and locals alike.

In addition to the great work of so many people, it is the wilderness at our doorstep that brings more than one billion dollars to Southeast each year. I run Pack Creek Bear Tours, a small-group bear viewing tour that relies on thriving wild places like Admiralty Island. I often remind myself that the Kootznoowoo Wilderness is no accident. Without the efforts of the Native leaders of Angoon, hunters and conservation organizations, we wouldn’t have this incredible treasure. Just south of town in Tracy Arm, the cruise industry and innovators in the Forest Service like John Neary and Tim Lydon used the “Best Practices” model to protect wild character for all people. Meanwhile, the “Best Practices” model is being applied in cruise ports around the world. These people deserve our thanks for protecting the wild places and unique character that draws people to Alaska. As we move forward we must remember that there is no other Alaska. These wild, undeveloped places are a resource the way they are.

As a young Alaskan, I see many of my friends turning the opportunities afforded by the visitor industry into successful businesses that benefit our economy and help make Juneau a wonderful place to live. These young entrepreneurs are getting involved in collaborative groups too. All of us love sharing Southeast Alaska with people from all over the world. When we share Alaska, I am grateful to all the people whose efforts have gotten us this far.

This commentary appeared in the April 23 edition of the Juneau Empire.



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