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By FRANK MURKOWSKI
In September I rode the ferry from Wrangell to Haines for the Southeast Conference.
A senior crew member onboard told me that business was slow because passenger numbers were decreasing as a result of increased fares and a decreasing state subsidy. The proverbial two-edged sword. Rising rates equal fewer riders and diminishing revenue.
There is a solution. Over one million visitors came to Alaska on cruise ships this past season, which shows interest is there. But many others cannot afford the luxury of a cruise and would happily travel in their recreational vehicle, taking the time to see and experience our beautiful state in their own way, and in a way that would be a great boon to our ferry system. Many retirees in the Lower 48 are ready to hit the road with their campers or motor homes and want to “See America First.” Alaska is on their bucket list.
RV Conventions are held all over the country. It would be of enormous benefit for Alaska to send some knowledgeable representatives from Southeast communities armed with videos, maps, brochures and ferry schedules to distribute to excited travelers looking for a new destination for the next season. I am sure Prince Rupert would join in the effort, as well.
The presentation should include route maps showing connections to Prince George and on to Prince Rupert, B.C., the Alaska Marine Highway to Ketchikan, the Inter-Island Ferry Authority connections to Hollis and the Prince of Wales Island highway to Craig, Klawock and Hydaburg.
Brochures from those communities should be included in the presentation. On Prince of Wales Island, there are 140 miles of paved highway through those communities and up to Coffman Cove. The route offers a unique opportunity to travel in a wonderland of scenic forested wilderness, wildlife, secluded beaches and to view Native culture. At Coffman Cove, the IFA must be reestablished.
From Coffman Cove on the north end of the island, the IFA ferry could take travelers to Petersburg on Mitkoff Island where they could connect again with the Alaska Marine Highway System ferry to go to Sitka, Skagway, Juneau or Haines, even going further on the Alaska Highway as far as Fairbanks. Or they could take the Inter-Island ferry to Wrangell and then take the AMHS ferry to Ketchikan, Prince Rupert and return to the Lower 48 from there.
This proposal could be initiated with two existing ships, along with an agreement between the AMHS and the IFA. IFA operates a ferry from Hollis to Ketchikan each morning. The ship then stays in Ketchikan and returns to Hollis in the late afternoon to overnight there.
The AMHS ferry operates the Lituya from Annette Bay near Metlakatla to Ketchikan—a short run.
I suggest that for the summer schedule the Lituya route could be taken over by the IFA for a mid-day run to Annette Bay and the Lituya could take the Coffman Cove-Mitkoff-Wrangell run three or four days per week round trip and return for overnight in Coffman Cove on a summer schedule or until ridership allowed for the larger IFA ferry (the Prince of Wales) to take over the route. It would take an agreement between the two ferry systems, but it would certainly create an opportunity for more passenger traffic for AMHS.
If the cruise industry can attract over a million visitors to Alaska, then there is certainly an opportunity to attract the RVs to the AMHS.
The simple business principle is to increase your volume to cover your costs. The answer is the RV visitor. Let’s get moving!
Frank Murkowski is a former Alaska governor and U.S. congressman.