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Goldbelt plans tourism development at Hobart Bay

Posted: Sunday, October 06, 2002

Juneau's urban Native corporation plans to build a cruise ship destination at Hobart Bay, 70 miles south of Juneau.

Goldbelt officials say developing its old logging camp into a tourist attraction recognizes the need to cater to independent and cruise line visitors to Southeast Alaska.

"Tourism in Alaska is growing, and most of the tourism in Alaska is on cruises," said David Goade, executive vice president for Goldbelt, which has 3,200 shareholders, over half of whom are in Juneau.

Earlier this year the corporation reported a loss of $4.4 million in fiscal year 2001 due in part to the weak independent-travel market.

Goade said Goldbelt has been discussing the proposed stop with Royal Caribbean, Holland America and Princess Cruises, as well as some of the smaller cruise companies in Southeast Alaska. In December, he hopes to apply for tideland leases from the state needed to build a cruise ship dock.

The proposed wildlife and adventure travel stop would accommodate one cruise ship at a time, offering passengers kayaking, jeep tours, wildlife viewing, guided hikes and cultural presentations, Goade said.

"We like independent travelers, but we need both," he said, referring to cruise line passengers. Goldbelt will focus first on the major cruise lines, and consider building a lodge for independent travelers and smaller tour operators once the stop is established.

Goldbelt was formed in 1973 as a result of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971. The corporation focused on logging until the early 1990s, when it recognized most of its commercially viable trees would be logged by the late 1990s. Goldbelt's board of directors decided to shift its focus from logging to tourism in the mid-1990s, said Gary Droubay, president and CEO of Goldbelt.

"Vision 2000 was the strategic plan for this shift," said Droubay.

The corporation has developed 12 tourism-based subsidiaries, such as Auk Nu Tours, the Goldbelt Hotel, the Mount Roberts Tramway and Glacier Bay Tours and Cruises.

Developing Hobart Bay as a tourist destination when its logging operation closed in 1999 seemed a natural step for the corporation, said Goade. The essential infrastructure for the logging camp, including roads and the sewer and water systems, is still in place.

"There were no more trees," he said. "But the land itself has value, too, so since we're in the tourism business we thought, 'Why don't we see what we can do to promote tourism there?' "

A clearcut piece of land can take more than 150 years to grow again to a mature forest, Goade said. A process called pre-commercial thinning, though, in which small trees and shrubs are cleared from the area surrounding larger, stronger trees, allows a forest to reach maturity in as few as 50 years.

The 30,000 acres owned by Goldbelt near Hobart Bay have grown back at an amazing rate, Goade said.

"Even though it's been logged, it's still a beautiful place," he said. "People just don't believe how green it is."

Susan Bell, who is employed by the McDowell Group research firm and is the former vice president of tourism for Goldbelt, said a remote cruise stop that focused on Native culture and adventure excursions would be a great way to capitalize on Hobart Bay's remote location with a minimal amount of investment and landscaping.

"There is a demand for experiencing Native culture and learning about Native culture, but it needs to be packaged in with other major motivators that people want to see when they come here, like mountains and kayaking," Bell said. "If (the cruise lines) felt like it was handled with a high degree of professionalism and customer service, it would be a very attractive excursion."

Construction of a cruise stop will not begin until Goldbelt has received commitments from cruise lines, Goade said. The cruise lines won't agree to anything, though, until Goldbelt attains tidewater leases and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permits, and until more tangible plans have been made.

"Royal Caribbean has given us the most help in terms of sharpening our vision and letting us know what they would need if they were to have a stop," Goade said. While the cruise lines have not said when or if they will commit to the stop, Goade believes once the lines become more confident with their own financial situations they will be interested in the stop.

Al Parrish, a spokesman for Holland America, said it is too early to say whether the cruise line would be interested in a Hobart Bay stop.

"A lot depends on the activities offered and the cost of the stop," he said. "Certainly if they develop a stop we'd look at it."

Representatives from Royal Caribbean were not available for comment.

Christine Schmid can be reached at cschmid@juneauempire.com.



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