Copyright Steve Taylor (3)
Figure 1. Rugged wilderness terrain and vast glaciers typify Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve: Mt. Blackburn viewed from near the town of McCarthy (left), McCarthy Creek sunset (middle), and Root (foreground) and Kennicott (background) glaciers separated by Donoho Peak.
At 13 million acres (53 million ha), Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in south-central Alaska is the largest unit in the National Park System. The park, established in 1980, contains many of North America’s largest mountain peaks and is known for its vast glaciers and rugged, remote wilderness (fig. 1, above). The park also contains the historic copper-mining town of Kennecott, which lies near the foot of the Kennicott1 Glacier (fig. 2). The high-grade copper ore extracted from the Kennicott Valley was in great demand in the early 20th century: copper wire was needed to develop the electrical grid, and brass was used for steam-engine components and wartime munitions. As a result, Kennecott was a booming town during this period. However, upon depletion of the copper reserves, the town was quickly abandoned. More recently legislators, land managers, and the public have recognized the historic value of the mill town; as a result, in 1978 Kennecott became a national historic landmark. In 1998 the National Park Service purchased a large portion of the Kennecott mine property and structures (Gilbert et al. 2001). The structures, which date back to the early 1900s, are in various states of disrepair (fig. 3 and fig. 4). Following the purchase, the National Park Service initiated a management plan for Kennecott and began historic preservation of the mill town’s buildings to provide future generations the benefit of experiencing Kennecott’s extraordinary mining history.
Concurrent with this stabilization and rehabilitation effort, visitation in 2010 is projected to reflect a 20% increase over 2000 visitation statistics (National Park Service 2003). The expected trend is partly due to improved access to Kennecott and the Kennicott Valley. Improved access might entice a broader range of visitors. In years past, reaching Kennecott entailed driving the 60-mile (97 km), unpaved McCarthy Road, which is notorious for flat tires, and, upon reaching the end of the road, required crossing the Kennicott River by a suspended handcart and traversing a 5-mile (8 km) stretch of road by foot, bicycle, or shuttle. In 1997 a foot bridge spanning the Kennicott River replaced the adventurous handcart crossing. Also, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, which maintains the McCarthy Road, is considering upgrading the road (National Park Service 2006).
Access changes may not be the only factor contributing to future growth in visitation: a federally funded program, administered by the Alaska Travel Industry Association, designed to promote visitation to lesser visited parks such as Wrangell-St. Elias is being implemented (Ahern 2005; Bradner 2005). To better accommodate future visitors, park managers are in the process of developing an alternative transportation plan for the Kennicott Valley. The plan will include an interpretation component for historic Kennecott. Previous management documents call for stabilizing and preventing deterioration rather than fully restoring the mill town’s buildings (Gilbert et al. 2001). However, park managers have yet to determine the types of supporting facilities and mechanisms for interpretation at Kennecott. While information exists regarding backcountry uses of park resources (Glaspell and Watson 2003), park managers were without information regarding visitors to developed areas such as Kennecott. They felt it would be difficult to generate a viable plan without first knowing visitor preferences and expectations for Kennecott. Based on anecdotal evidence of visitor preferences with regards to development and information needs, park managers posed four questions:
- What are the significant visitor experiences?
- How can the significant visitor experiences inform us about what types of interpretation to provide (e.g., wayside exhibits, audio, or publications)?
- What does the visitor think is the significance of Kennecott?
- How do people get information about Kennecott prior to arriving?
To better accommodate future visitors, park managers are in the process of developing an alternative transportation plan [which includes an interpretive component] for the Kennicott Valley.
This study responded to management needs by gathering baseline information on these questions. In this article, we focus on the first three questions. The study design assumed that visitors would differ in how they would like to see the mill town managed: some may desire restoration of the mill town with interactive interpretive facilities; others may feel such development detracts from the historic nature of the town and would prefer the solitude and stillness of its current “ghost town” state. The intent of the study was to identify current visitor demographics and trip characteristics and present these data in a format allowing managers the ability to predict how changes, such as improved access, might impact current visitors, and replicate the study in the future to assess whether visitor composition has changed.
This study responded to management needs by gathering baseline information [about visitor preferences].
Following the principles of “experience based management” (Manfredo et al. 2002), we hypothesized that discrete visitor groups or “experience types” would have differing reasons (i.e., motivations) for visiting Kennecott, preferences for facility development and management, and information needs. Experience types define the target audiences for different kinds of interpretation and the appropriate medium for providing such interpretation.
Following the principles of “experience based management”…we hypothesized that discrete visitor groups or “experience types” would have differing reasons (i.e., motivations) for visiting Kennecott.
1“Kennecott” (mill town) is spelled differently than “Kennicott” valley, river, and glacier.
Taylor, S. C., P. J. Fix, and M. Richotte. 2007. An assessment of significant visitor experiences and preferences in Kennecott National Historic Landmark. Park Science 24(2):46–52.
Available at https://www.nature.nps.gov/ParkScience/archive/PDF/Article_PDFs/ParkScience24(2)Winter2006-2007_46-52_Taylor_et_al_2549.pdf.