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Saxman's Totem Row Park is a borough treasure and one of the community's most popular visitor attractions.
When Ketchikan entertains guests, whether from the cruise ships or as family and friends, a visit to the Saxman totem poles and tribal house often is on the schedule of sites to be seen.
For those reasons, and probably another one or two, the Ketchikan Gateway Borough should look favorably on the City of Saxman's request for Commercial Passenger Vessel Excise Tax Grant Funds.
Saxman would like to expand the Edwin Dewitt Carving Center and develop a Commercial Tourism Development Plan.
Saxman seeks $55,000 for planning and designing the carving center expansion — providing another $20,000 itself in staff services — for a project total of $75,000. For the development plan, it's asking for $38,000, contributing $12,000 in an in-kind match from the city.
Saxman has come a long way since the 1980s when the original carving shed was built. The shed has been the workplace for Saxman, Ketchikan and out-of-town carvers and been a point of interest for visitors whose numbers have increased from 10,000 to 100,000 annually.
Visitors and locals get the opportunity at the shed to watch and interact with the woodworkers as they carve new and restore old totem poles. Their effort allows for cost-effective maintenance of the city's totem park as well as other totem sites locally. To send poles out of town for restoration would be expensive and less likely.
The shed is the focal point of the carving industry, where carvers hone their skills and train the next generation. As the demand for carving increases like it has over the past two decades, the workforce and the demand for carving and storage space at the shed does, too.
The growing interest and crowds necessitate expanding the shed, in part for safety reasons and also to accommodate the hundreds of visitors per day during the tourist season. Ninety thousand more tourists visit the shed than when it first opened.
Saxman's intent with CPV funds would be to design a facility appropriate in size for visitor numbers and the future of the carving industry. For the expansion itself, the city would seek philanthropic, private sector and government grants.
In conjunction with expanding the shed, Saxman would like to recreate its development plan. The 1989 plan prioritized the community's capital improvements, most of which have been achieved.
The city would be planning for the continued growth of the tourism industry, which has increased 10-fold since the latest plan.
Clearly, Southeast Alaska — Ketchikan and Saxman, in particular — continues to be a world-class destination of travelers. One of the key attractions is the Native culture and the totem poles that tell that culture's stories. Those stories incorporate the wildlife the tourists often hope to see while in Alaska, enjoying one of the most beautiful places on earth.
With all of that to offer, tourists will be coming here for generations.
The communities must be prepared. If attractions such as Saxman offers and other amenities are available, the tourists will come and come again. That's what the borough needs, new and returning tourists; the tourist industry is what the economy depends upon in large part.
Saxman's projects should be funded with CPV funds.