Canadian land border set to open soon for Alaska tourists; Skagway, Haines residents have questions

Welcome to Alaska sign in Haines.
Welcome to Alaska sign in Haines.(KTUU)
Published: Jul. 22, 2021 at 7:18 PM AKDT
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - Canada is set to reopen its border with the United States to fully-vaccinated citizens next month for non-essential travel, but the flow of tourists will only go one way, for now.

To curb the spread of COVID-19, the United States government announced the country’s land borders would stay closed until Aug. 21. at the earliest.

“We were very excited, thinking we were going to have Canadian residents coming this way,” said Mayor Douglas Olerud of Haines. “And to find out that wasn’t the case was kind of heartbreaking.”

Cruise ships are a critical source of revenue, but Alaska towns close to the Canadian border also rely on tourism from the Yukon. RV parks have been virtually empty and annual Alaska events could suffer without their usual throngs of Canadian visitors.

Cross-border tour operators are facing uncertainty.

Billi Clem, owner of Klondike Tours in Skagway, typically takes buses full of people into Canada to visit a sled dog kennel owned by Iditarod musher Michelle Phillips. Clem is currently limited to going up White Pass and turning around before the border.

The border reopening into Canada should help, in theory, but travel requirements could make tours tricky. Americans will soon need to present a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of crossing the border.

Mayor Andrew Cremata of Skagway said the local health clinic would likely be overrun with requests, especially if scores of cruise ship passengers line up to take tests. That makes planning difficult for Klondike Tours and its passengers.

“I just want to know if we can get them up to the border or not,” Clem said.

In Haines, Olerud has been told by the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium that free COVID-19 tests will be made available for existing patients. Otherwise, it’s a flat fee of $145 to get tested at the SEARHC clinic.

Maegan Bosak, a spokesperson for the consortium, said appointments need to be made 24 hours in advance in Haines, but there are no concerns for capacity at the moment.

Overall, the border reopening for Alaskans wanting to head into Canada is being welcomed.

Haines and Skagway residents rely on the highway for emergency trips to the doctor, the veterinarian and to buy groceries in Whitehorse. Residents are also elated getting the opportunity to simply travel again when the border reopens on Aug. 9.

“People are very excited, they’re already booking their reservations at their favorite restaurants and their favorite places to stay,” Olerud said. “There’s so many recreational opportunities we take advantage of in the Yukon and British Columbia.”

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