Federal Employees Saving History in Skagway

The National Park facility in Skagway, AK is a busy location in summer. This is a look at the town’s history and why the NPS has a facility there.

Skagway, Alaska is a town of about 1,000 people in the Panhandle of Alaska.

Skagway is also the site of a National Park staffed by the National Park Service.

The National Historical Park is there as a result of this site being the major gateway to the gold fields during the Klondike Gold Rush of the late 1890’s. Those seeking their fortune by mining gold were trying to get to Dawson City, Canada looking for their version of a modern day lottery winner.

Those who visit the area and see the trails used to hike more than 30 miles with packs in adverse weather and mountains will wonder how the men striving to reach the gold fields maintained the motivation to undertake the strenuous, dangerous trek.

Despite the hardship and danger, most of the more than 100,000 people willing to risk life and limb to strike it rich were not successful.

Start of the Gold Rush

The gold rush was on after a steamship offloaded miners weighed down with gold in San Francisco on July 24, 1897. Another ship docked in Seattle on July 17, 1897. A reporter noted that there was “more than a ton of solid gold on board” the ship that docked in Seattle.

Sign in Skagway, AK at the National Park Service office explaining the history of the area's gold rush in the 1800s

In reality, according to the National Park Service, the ship carried more than two tons of gold.

The stock market crashed in the early 1890’s. The panic that followed left millions of people destitute. With this background, once the news started to spread about this bonanza of gold in the northern wilderness, the rush was on.

Most of those seeking a fortune in the gold fields did not get to Dawson City until 1898—two years after the big gold discovery. The prospectors who got there first had already staked their claims in the known gold fields. Many gave up and just sold their equipment to try and get enough money to get back home again.

Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park

The National Park Service employs more than 50 people in Skagway—at least during the summer. It is the busiest National Park in Alaska and one of the most visited national parks in the federal park system—undoubtedly because of the many cruise ships that now dock in Skagway in the summer months.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47