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Viewpoints: Letters / Opinions

Concerns About Discovery Center
By Tom LeCompte


April 26, 2012

I have great concerns about Ketchikan this Summer, specifically the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center, (SEDC).This Alaska Public Lands Information Center is a natural history, native history, economic and recreation information clearinghouse for the Tongass National Forest. There are three other APLIC's in the state, Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Tok.

I'm a retired teacher but have worked in tourism for 20 + seasons, largely with Southeast Stevedoring and more recently with the Ketchikan Visitor's Bureau. Our two offices have Visitor Information Clerks who speak with hundreds of tourists daily. If the visitors don't know what they want to do, we usually direct them to the SEDC to get an overview of the area.

Now we are told that the Discovery Center will be closed two days a week in the Summer, and completely closed in the Winter. This makes no sense. In the Summer on Sundays and Mondays, the proposed closed days, We average between 6,000 and 10,000 visitors a day. Plus, there are no days without ships from May 10 until late September. Even on the low days we usually have over 2,000 guests. In the Winter there is a steady trickle of people through town and the SEDC has been open Thursday through Sunday.

The Discovery Center recently had a wood chip fired boiler system installed to save money, but at what cost if we don't use the facility? Secondly, discussion has been heard about turning the SEDC into a suite of offices for the Tongass Ranger District. Whose idea was that? We have the Federal Building built in 1936, which also got a new boiler system last year. US Customs and Border Protection, Social Security, and many USFS offices are located in that facility already, which may lose the Federal Court, so I assume we'll just be locking that space up too? The Ranger District also has another building alongside Bar Harbor.

The SEDC is a wonderful space and well used by the people of America who visit Alaska. I can't think of a worse misuse of a public facility than to lock it up during the height of our visitor season. Our pulp mill and the timber industry is dead, fishing struggles locally thanks to fish farming, tourism is the only game in town. Why would we stifle that too?


Tom LeCompte
Ketchikan, AK

Received April 24, 2012 - Published April 26, 2012



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