When the Southeast Alaska
Discovery Center opened in 1995, any visitor who stepped inside the $10 million facility was immediately aware of its world-class quality.
Its combination of static and interactive displays provided illuminating information about the natural environment, Native culture and industries of Southeast Alaska. Its theater/presentation space was top-flight. Its learning room and book shop space evoked a fine wilderness lodge. It was a comfortable, intriguing place in which people could learn many things about this region.
It still is.
The continued wonderfulness of the facility belies the difficulties that its owner, the U.S. Forest Service, appears to be having in providing anything more than the most threadbare of shoestring budgets for the center’s operation. The remaining staff members should be commended for their energy, efficiency and enthusiasm in doing the best possible job under the circumstances.
To its credit, the agency has reshuffled its organizational flowchart to put the Discovery Center under the broader Tongass National Forest rather continuing it under the smaller Ketchikan/Misty Fiords Ranger District. That could prove helpful to the Discovery Center’s future. The Forest Service in Southeast Alaska, however, is an agency that’s evolving with changing times. We don’t have hard data, but the Forest Service’s presence in the region appears to have shrunk since the mid-1990s — not at the same rate, but certainly in parallel, with the decline of the timber industry.
The agency’s many responsibilities in managing a vast tracts of federal land in Southeast Alaska likely means that the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center is rather low on the priority list. Fiscal constraints seem to be hampering its ability to maintain existing recreational facilities in this area.
Attracting more visitors to the Discovery Center would help. At first glance, it seems as though visitors would be swarming a quality interpretive center that’s just steps away from Ketchikan’s cruise ship docks. But the competition for those visitors’ time, attention and dollars is fierce, and few folks who depend on the visitor trade have a big incentive to promote the Discovery Center. That leaves Discovery Center promotion and program offerings largely in the hands of the Forest Service, which appears to already have its hands full in just trying to keep the Discovery Center’s doors open.
It’s a difficult situation, without evidence of a simple solution. The Ketchikan community has great facility in the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center. It’s worth finding a way to keep it intact and viable for many years to come.
—Ketchikan Daily News, Aug. 4, 2016