Whittier is experiencing a tourism boom, but can it keep up?
The town of Whittier celebrated its 50th birthday Wednesday. That half century mark highlights a boom in tourism, an influx of curious travelers to the quirky town.
In the words of Whittier's Mayor Dan Blair, “Whittier is on the map.” The question is, can the town's limited infrastructure keep up?
"We're just getting started. It's a signal for opportunity," Blair told Channel 2 Wednesday, to the tune of a train whistle blowing in the background.
At the turn of the 21st Century, the tunnel to Whittier opened up to both train and highway traffic, bringing the town alive.
“We transitioned from a sleeping community that was served by the Alaska Railroad, and we now have a road that operates most of the time," Blair said.
Blair says the next step is to build more infrastructure to accommodate the growing popularity of the quaint Alaskan town.
"The next component of that is to have some land to build some modern houses that aren't 70 years old," Blair said. Currently, the town's full complement of just over 200 residents live in just two buildings.
But the town is in a three-way tug-of-war with the State of Alaska and the Alaska Railroad over land use, according to Blair.
“We have to get that worked out,” he said. “Because ultimately, that's where a lot of jobs and businesses will be able to serve that influx of people."
And with cruise ships like the Coral Princess bringing in 2,000 guests at a time to the Gateway to the Prince William Sound, Whittier needs to find room quickly.
"Right now, we have a whole lot of people that love to come and recreate in Prince William Sound,” Blair said. “So, we just have this flood of boats, and we're working on dealing with that."
There’s still a lot of work to be done to welcome curious travelers to one of Alaska's quirkiest towns. Blair says the town is working quickly to make necessary accommodations.
"We're situated in one of the most beautiful places on the planet,” Blair said. “To be able to share that with visitors is a great thing."