Alaska towns near Canadian border brace for another summer of restrictions
Alaska towns along the Canadian border brace for a second summer of restrictions, but at least one business on the Alaska Highway benefits permanent Canadian exceptions for essential travel.
Kris Beeman, who owns Caribou Cabins in Tok, said the flow of essential workers and new Alaskans has provided business during what has been an unusually quiet year in the city.
During a normal summer, Beeman said, Tok remains relatively busy, with passing travelers from all over the world. But last summer, military families and others who moved to Alaska made up the bulk of Caribou cabins’ clientele.
“Tok is a border town. It is by no means a destination. It’s not like Denali – these people are just passing by, ”he said. “So the impact here is much less than in other parts of the state.”
More than 47,000 people have crossed the Canadian border into Alaska in personal vehicles since March 2020, according to data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Almost 70% of these vehicles entered via the Alaska Highway crossing, about 90 miles from Tok, the first major city on the Alaska side.
Beeman said he expects this summer to be similar to last year, although he’s getting a few more bookings so far.
“Who knows what it will be like – a lot of people get vaccinated so they’re just planning their trip, so who knows? They can come, but if there is another summer push, they can back off, ”he said.
Canada has extended the border closure on a monthly basis for over a year. The current restriction is in place until May 21. The increase in the number of vaccines in the two countries has not yet led to new exceptions.
This past summer has been tough for the towns of Haines and Skagway in Alaska, both of which rely primarily on tourism to fuel their economies.
The historic Chilkoot Trail, which begins just outside of Skagway and ends at Bennett Lake, BC, was closed on the Canadian side last summer. This summer it’s open on both sides – but hikers can’t cross the border and have to turn around.
The White Pass Yukon Route Railway, which picks up hikers on the Bennett Lake Trail, was also closed last year. Jacqueline Taylor-Rose, a spokesperson for the company, said she was taking things day to day, but without the cruise ships and with the border closed, those pickups are unlikely to resume this summer.
Taylor-Rose said closing the border has been difficult for Skagway because locals view residents of the Yukon Territory as their neighbors. Whitehorse is just over two hours away, but Skagway residents used to drive across the border to dentists, run errands or visit friends, she said.
“We’re all trying hard to get back to the Yukon, and I think that’s the opposite of the Canadians we talk to,” said Taylor-Rose.
Stewart, a small town on the border of British Columbia, connects to Hyder, Alaska, about 3 miles from the border. Remote towns depend on each other for basic supplies and other needs – the people of Hyder cross the border to buy groceries and their children go to school in Canada.
Border crossing restrictions were relaxed for Hyder and Stewart in the fall, so essential workers with jobs in the opposite country can cross the border, which Hyder residents can take quick trips to do. their errands and that Alaskan students can resume classes in person in Canada.
Caroline Stewart, who owns a Hyder gift shop, said the closure had been extremely difficult for the city.
Stewart said all of Hyder’s businesses had closed at least temporarily during the pandemic. She closed her business last summer and expects another season without greeting customers, handing out her homemade fudge, or opening the cash register to count change.
Stewart said she looks forward to working again, out of unemployment and back to normal life.
Despite the separation, the residents still found ways to support each other, Stewart said. When a spring landslide cut off road access to the border for about five days for residents of Hyder, their Canadian neighbors brought in trucks full of groceries as soon as the road was partially cleared, Stewart said. Residents of the Canadian city also brought trucks full of firewood for residents of Hyder who relied on a pile of wood in Canada, Stewart said. And neighbors in Alaska drop Amazon packages at the border for their Canadian counterparts when it costs less to ship the goods through the United States, Stewart said.
Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy visited Hyder last week and offered vaccines to residents of Stewart, saying he hoped the move could lead the Canadian government to ease border restrictions.
It just seems that Hyder is able to repay the favors by donating vaccines, Stewart said. Although many Canadians have received a first dose of the vaccine, the wait for the second vaccine is longer.
Stewart helped set up an impromptu vaccination clinic in a sunny parking lot alongside the chief medical officer, Dr Anne Zink. She was proud to help and thrilled to see more people get vaccinated.
But Stewart fears he won’t be able to cross the Canadian border this summer to visit friends or attend church.
“I’m not going to have a season anymore this year,” she said. “It will be another year with a sign that says’ Stop, don’t come in. Non-residents are not allowed. It’s gonna be another year of this.