The city of Saxman has a new vision for its future. Officials from the 400-person village south of Ketchikan recently presented a plan to revamp the town’s harbor and expand its cultural park.
City of Saxman Administrator Lori Richmond presented the plan to Ketchikan’s Borough Assembly. She says city officials hope to turn Saxman into a world-class destination showcasing Southeast Alaska Indigenous culture, not just a stop on a bus tour. To achieve that goal, Richmond says harbor development is key.
“The harbor has no facilities right now whatsoever. It’s just a blank space,” she said.
While there is already a small marina at Saxman Seaport with a few floats for fishing vessels and recreational boats, Richmond says the plan is build a port that supports more – including a dock dedicated to small cruise ships. She says two Southeast Alaska cruise companies are already prepared to commit to dock their ships in Saxman.
“They both said that they feel like they’re getting pushed out of Ketchikan — which is not a problem with the City of Ketchikan. It’s just that the City of Ketchikan is gearing towards a little bit different audience,” she said. “There’s a huge difference between the kind of visitor that goes on a commercial cruise ship and the kind that takes like an UnCruise.”
In addition to a small cruise ship dock, the plan would provide spaces for recreational boaters, commercial fishing vessels, a floatplane dock and access for small skiffs and subsistence fishing. Upland amenities include a harbormasters office, restaurant and store, harbor user parking and tour bus parking. And Richmond says the port upgrades could make Saxman a great place for luxury yachts to tie up.
“If we give them a good place to park, and refuel, and pick up new fresh employees, I think that it would be fairly easy to increase the visits to the Ketchikan Gateway Borough,” she said.
Richmond also says the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Indian Energy is doing a study exploring the use of tidal generators to deliver free or low-cost energy to the harbor and community of Saxman.
“Ketchikan has some of the highest tides in the world. And under this parking lot there’s no salmon, there’s no seaweed, there’s no herring eggs, there’s nothing that we can mess up by putting a generator under there,” Richmond said.
Another component of the plan is to expand its cultural park. This area includes the iconic Totem Row, the existing clan house, and carving shed. Easily navigated, –wheelchair-accessible walking paths would guide visitors to the different facilities.
The design proposes two additional clan houses so multiple activities can be held at the same time, such as dance group performances. Near a new visitor’s center, there would be a looped bus drop-off and pick up area with a covered shelter. Other new buildings in the cultural park would include a recreation center, theater and an exhibit kitchen classroom. Richmond says it’s all aimed at immersing visitors in Alaska Native culture.
“They could show the process from catching a salmon, which you can do – your excursion to go catch your salmon in the morning – come in to the kitchen in the afternoon and smoke it. Probably eat some that was smoked the day before. Or something similar to that. As well as seafood processing, the seafood salads, the herring eggs. It’s just unlimited,” Richmond said.
In addition, Saxman’s historic schoolhouse would be renovated to a new museum with an outside marketplace for local vendors to sell arts, crafts and food.
Recreation is another component of the plan. Richmond says one part of Saxman visitors don’t currently get to enjoy is the rainforest.
“We have developed activities that showcase the rainforest and they become either day excursions or they can be overnight excursions,” she said.
This would include a tree ropes course, trails, a campground and cabins, some with panoramic views.
“And we’ve created the idea of two levels of those types of cabins some that are a little less expensive from the bottom,” she said. “It really gives everybody (what they need) from just the backpacker who wants to camp overnight to somebody who needs a little more support.”
Now that the plan is in place, the next step is to secure funding. Richmond says the harbor and uplands upgrades are estimated at a cost of $77 million, and the cultural park, trails and campground are projected to cost another $26 million.
“It’s going to cost a ton, a ton – like literal dollar bill weigh-a-ton – worth of money to get it where we want to see it,” Richmond said.
The city administrator says making the master plan a reality is Saxman’s top priority in their requests for legislative funding. She says design allows the project to be completed in phases over many years. Funding for the plan itself came from a grant from state head taxes charged to cruise ship passengers.