Federal Employees Saving History in Skagway

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By on July 20, 2017 in Agency News with 0 Comments

Sign welcoming visitors to Skagway, AK

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.

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.

National Park Service Ranger Caylon Likely at his post in Skagway

Park Ranger (Interpretive) Caylon Likely

On a recent visit to the Park Service visitors center in Skagway, the front desk was staffed by Caylon Likely.

He was assigned to the office earlier this summer. Despite his short tenure, he answered numerous questions from visitors with aplomb and enthusiasm—even though he answers many of the same questions numerous times during the day. No doubt, his engaging personality and obvious enjoyment of his job creates a good impression for the Park Service and an enjoyable experience for visitors.

More than 900,000 visitors arrive in the area during the summer months, doubling the normal town population who work in stores, shops and provide local services.

The National Park Service has had a major impact on the town. It is now well maintained and a much cleaner version of the town than existed over a hundred years ago.

A number of buildings are now owned and maintained by the agency, and the visitors center there directs the numerous vacationers from around the world to the local historical sites.

The National Park office explains events in this area that impacted so many of our countrymen at this juncture in American history.

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

Sign explaining the history of the gold rush in Skagway, AK

Exterior of the National Park Service office in Skagway, AK

Exterior of the National Park Service office in Skagway, AK

© 2019 Ralph R. Smith. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from Ralph R. Smith.

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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

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