Opinion: Sustainability strategy could help keep tourism working for our communities

By Dan Kirkwood and Kirby Day

The Forest Service has recently announced their “Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy,” with the goal of shifting focus to help our region’s new and growing economies, including tourism. This is a promising move to support existing efforts to help keep tourism working for our communities.

Tourism in Southeast Alaska has rapidly grown in the past decade. Despite a drastic downtown during the pandemic, people are still eager to visit Alaska. They want to experience many of the things that make this such a rich place to live: the people, the scenery, the wildlife, the fish. While some communities are figuring out how to deal with crowds, there are still significant opportunities for rural communities, including immersive cultural experiences as well as nature and scenery tours. Throughout the region, entrepreneurs and organizations are seeking innovative ways to make their business more beneficial to our communities and environment. We need to Forest Service to be at the table as we plan for this growth.

For the past decade the Juneau Economic Development Council has convened the “Visitor Products Cluster Working Group,” to address issues facing tourism businesses. For the past four years, I have served as co-chair of the group. This business-led entity is comprised of private businesses, local and federal government employees, non-profits, and community members from around Southeast Alaska. Since the start of the Southeast Alaska Cluster Initiative in 2012, this group has grown to become a productive space for businesses small and large to have dialogue with Forest Service.

Throughout our years of leading this group, we have been grateful for the support and constant participation of the U.S. Forest Service staff. Through their reliable participation and honest dialogue, agency staff has helped businesses learn about their legal requirements to operate on the Tongass. Agency staff has also learned about challenges businesses face in this sector. This work, participating in open, constructive dialogue outside of specific planning efforts, is precisely the kind of work that the agency needs to continue.

We are excited by these efforts to grow southeast Alaska’s economy and make our communities great places to live. We stand ready to work with the Forest Service to take what we have learned together in the hope of making Southeast Alaska the best place to live or visit in the America.

• Dan Kirkwood and Kirby Day are the current and former chairs of the Visitor Products Cluster Working Group.

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