The return of the Alaska Railroad, in partnership with the Downtown Palmer Merchants Association, as part of the 6th Annual “Who Let the Girls Out!?” signals a new economic engine that may contribute to Palmer’s ability to avert the fiscal crisis threatening the great state of Alaska.
In the face of steadily declining oil prices, threatened federal cuts, the decades long migration from the mining and timber industries and the fluctuation of fish prices throughout the state, the three legged stool long used to describe our economic stabilizers is teetering. Tourism may, by default, become the stump on which our economy must pause to get its breath.
Palmer gets just a nibble of the tourism pie when compared to sister communities around the state. Our’s is a community rich in history, convenient, picturesque, and the jump-off point for many eco-tour destinations of grand magnitude. Hatcher Pass, the massive flocks of birds in migration, glaciers, the musk ox and reindeer farms, accessible and challenging hiking and climbing trails are the delight of many who come for a visit. The agricultural community and their adaptations for northern climates are of great fascination to many, as is the history of the area from coal to colony.
Many Alaskan’s living along the highway have made Palmer a regular destination, enjoying our numerous community events, unique retail opportunities, great food and the chance to just get away.
Palmer has proven our capacity to recirculate local dollars in an effort to support and sustain local businesses, humming a finely tuned “shop local” mantra and contributing and actively participating in local events, but the relatively “clean” tourism dollar by-passes us in large measure.
Tourism is not just a boost for the existing local retailer, it is an opportunity to expand the services, events, and workforce to satisfy the new guest in our community. Over the years I have heard people describe some of the possibilities – one that shines brightly in my memory is the idea of a play based on Palmer’s colonist history, somewhat like Kodiak’s historic “Call of the Wild Ram” which engaged many locals and was the seasonal place to be for tourists and Kodiak residents alike. A number of years ago a local real estate entrepreneur, responsible for much of the renovation of Palmer’s older buildings, when asked about the possibilities associated with the return of the train, said “if the opportunity associated with the return of the train was offered to Palmer, Palmer would respond by creating every bit of the infrastructure those guests would require”. Now we can only hope that this spring journey to the Who Let the Girls Out event is well enough received to encourage the Alaska Railroad and the State of Alaska to invest in a little community that can, and does.