More Parks Canada reductions are worrying tourism operators in the Klondike.
Parks Canada is shortening its summer operating hours for all its sites across the country, mandating a season opening on the May long weekend, with the upcoming Labour Day weekend as the last chance to visit Parks’ locations.
That’s not sitting well with the Klondike Visitors Association. Chairman Brian Stethem wrote a letter of protest to federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq on July 30, urging the government to reconsider allowing the Klondike National Historic Sites to stay open till mid-September.
“Frankly it’s a national issue, coast to coast,” said KVA executive director Gary Parker.
“The decision was made at a national level that the summer tourism season would end at the same time across the country. While the intentions may have been good, we think the reality of that decision is not only impractical but inappropriate,” he said.
Stethem’s letter points out that throughout the early 2000s Parks sites in the Yukon remained open until around Sept. 16. Those two weeks are important, Parker said, because it represents 10 per cent of the entire season.
“It’s already a short and fragile season. Weather can shorten it at either end. Road closures can interrupt it. It’s only four to five months at best, so having Parks properties open as early and as late in the season as they possibly can is critical,” Parker said.
“In terms of Parks programs, venues and animation programs, it means fewer visitors or fewer reasons for visitors to come here,” he said.
Stethem’s letter was copied to Parks Canada’s CEO Alan Latourelle, Yukon superintendent Anne Morin, Yukon MP Ryan Leef, and Yukon Tourism Minister Mike Nixon. As of press time, Parker said he hadn’t received any response from any of them.
Leef, Nixon and Morin could not be reached for comment by press time.
The concerns aren’t just limited to the Klondike. Yukon Tourism Industry Association executive director Blake Rogers is also worried about what he sees as the latest in a trend of cutbacks that signal the federal government doesn’t view Parks Canada as important as it once did.
“As we learned last year with Parks Canada cuts across the country, the Yukon was impacted much more than other parts of Canada. We were one of the hardest-hit areas in the country in terms of how the cuts impacted actual services and operations,” Rogers said.
Last year, the federal government cut funding for public tours at the S.S. Klondike and Dredge No. 4, as well as money for search and rescue capabilities in Kluane National Park and the staff who care for Dawson City’s extensive collection of historical artifacts.
“At least since the 1980s there has been a real push in the Yukon to extend the shoulder season, to maximize how much of the season we can squeeze tourism out.
“Industry has been trying for decades to climb this hill, and now because of cutbacks the federal government is siphoning gas out of the car in a crucial lap of the race,” he said.
The early closures could be especially painful for small communities like Dawson City and Haines Junction, where Parks Canada sites are an even bigger draw, proportionally, than they are in Whitehorse, Rogers said.
While rubber-tire tourism tends to slow down in the fall, Klondike MLA Sandy Silver offered an alternative: focus on drawing corporate tours from the U.S. and Europe.
“Diamond Tooth Gerties is still open. Everything is there waiting, but the town is getting quieter and quieter. Why not open this up to major corporations in the U.S. or European markets?
“They could come take over the community for a week. They have a casino there; they have hotels. There’s a real missed opportunity there that needs a champion to make it happen, but sadly we haven’t seen much action from the territorial government on that,” Silver said.
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