05/11/2004: "THE TOURISTS ARE COMING! THE TOURISTS ARE COMING!"
I always forget what a dramatic impact the tourist industry has on Juneau. 850,000 cruise ship passengers are expected to come through Juneau this summer, and another 120,000 independent travelers, just to give you an idea of how many people we're talking about. When nearly 1 million extra people descend on a town the size of Juneau over a 3 1/2 month time period, everyone is affected. The local paper, the Juneau Empire includes a ship forecast everyday so people will know how mobbed the downtown area is going to be.
The tourists bring a lot of money into the local economy, which is great, but they also bring a lot of noise and pollution. They are carted all over the place by huge tour buses, float planes, and helicopters (to see the Mendenhall Glacier and Juneau Ice Field) The helicopters travel in packs of 5 or 6 and when they fly overhead it makes you feel like you're in a war zone. The float planes are just as bad.
One afternoon out sailing in the channel we counted 8 or 9 float planes landing and taking off. They fly right over your mast and although they're supposed to be watching out for you, the combination of that with the huge monster sized cruise ships coming in and out of port can make being on a small 22 foot sailboat a little bit frightening.
I remember when I came to Juneau for my interview, I believe it was in May. We went downtown and there were lots of people walking around, all kinds of cute little stores, sidewalk vendors, performances going on in the public square...it seemed like a mini San Francisco.
After I moved here (in August 1999) I rode my bike downtown, it must have been early September, and the place seemed like a ghost town. Even in the summer, chances are businesses will close up if there's a day where there are no ships scheduled in the port. Half the downtown businesses close up shop permanently for the winter after the last ships of the season.
Anyway, itís exciting that summer is almost upon us, but it's also a little bitter sweet. We know longer have this beautiful little hamlet to ourselves.