Visitors may have a hard time getting to and from the Southeast Alaska State Fair in Haines. That’s because of the strike that has shut down the state’s ferry service since Wednesday.
The 51st annual Southeast Alaska State Fair began Thursday in Haines. Less than 24 hours before the fair’s opening, staff learned that the Alaska Marine Highway System would be suspending service indefinitely due to a strike.
The fair is the biggest event of the summer in Haines. For the past year, organizers have been preparing for a large influx of visitors from Southeast Alaska and the Yukon.
“We have alternative arrangements already set up for all our headliners,” said Amanda Randles, the public events and outreach coordinator for the Southeast Alaska State Fair. “So everything is going to be on schedule. Everyone is going to be here. That was the most important part.”
Randles said the people most affected by the strike are visitors coming to Haines for the weekend.
She received several calls Wednesday from people in Juneau who are disappointed that they will not be able to make it this year. Randles said fair staff are trying to figure out how to make it up to those affected by the strike who already purchased tickets to the fair.
“Well as far as their ferry stuff and their housing, I have no idea. As far as four-day passes, we’re going to figure that out. We’re not going to let anybody take a hit,” Randles said.
But some visitors who arrived in Haines on the ferry before the strike began are now stuck. A woman named Carol from Arizona planned to spend Thursday at the fair and return to Juneau on the ferry the next day.
“I have two children and a vehicle. There’s no way of driving to Juneau. So now my son-in-law and daughter who live in Juneau are trying to figure out how to get us back,” she said.
According to Alison Jacobson of Alaska Fjordlines, visitors coming to the fair aren’t the only ones looking for a way back home.
“We are getting groups that are stuck everywhere: Gustavus, Haines, Skagway,” Jacobson said. “Lots of tour groups. Even Boy Scout youth groups. It’s pretty sad.”
Alaska Fjordlines is a catamaran tour service that offers trips between Haines, Skagway and Juneau. Her phone has been ringing off the hook since the state ferry strike began. She added three runs between Juneau and Haines this weekend to keep up with demand.
“We’re pretty full, but the added runs are filling up. We’re helping people, but there’s no way we can help all the people. We have one 48-passenger boat, so we just can’t take all the freight and luggage and needs that are required.”
Other regional transportation services are trying to pick up the slack as well. Allen Marine Tours, a day cruise company based in Sitka, will be running boats between Haines and Juneau this weekend. Alaska Seaplanes has also scheduled extra trips between the Haines and Juneau airports.
The Alaska Marine Highway System is in the process of refunding passengers’ tickets. The state ferry has refunded over $500,000 in fares to passengers so far. Those seeking a refund should call 907-465-3941.