Closed for the past 18 months, Haines hotel opens up for a community in need

Light pours from the entrance of the Halsingland Hotel on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, in Haines, Alaska. The hotel has been closed, but the owners decided to open some rooms for added space as all of the town’s hotel rooms are full with evacuees and workers who have come to Haines to search for missing residents and help repair damage from flooding and landslides. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Some fifty families are displaced in Haines due to mudslides and evacuations. Every hotel in town was full over the weekend. Except one: the 60-room Hotel Halsingland, closed for the last year and a half and currently for sale.

Rain turned to snow Saturday afternoon in Haines, but that didn’t deter dozens of volunteers and former employees from opening the century-old hotel in the dead of winter. They chopped wood. They dusted, disinfected and vacuumed. They fluffed pillows.

Nolan Woodard feeds a wood stove in the lobby of the Halsingland Hotel on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, in Haines, Alaska. The hotel has been closed, but the owners decided to open some rooms for added space as all of the town’s hotel rooms are full with evacuees and workers who have come to Haines to search for missing residents and help repair damage from flooding and landslides. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Gina Randles manned the front desk while a volunteer chopped wood to feed the stove that warms the lobby.

“Oh today has been hectic. It has been amazing, though,” she said. “We decided we were going to open up some of the buildings here to try and get people in so that they’ve got places to stay. And I put the word out that I needed volunteers and an army showed up.”

The hotel is typically open seasonally for tourists. Owner Jeff Butcher is in the Lower 48, but he and his wife plan to be in Haines on the next ferry, scheduled to arrive Tuesday.

“We didn’t open this summer,” he said. “But I guess we’re opening this winter instead.”

Butcher said he is working directly with the borough Emergency Operations Center rather than opening the reservation line directly.

“This is pretty, pretty terrible. And we’re happy to do what we can to help,” he said. “And if someone thinks that we can be of assistance in another way, feel free to contact me. We’re glad to help wherever we can. And however we can.”

The rooms were ready for guests by mid-afternoon on Saturday, but a few maintenance volunteers worked into the evening. Under the guidance of a long-time former employee, volunteer Nolan Woodard helped coax the hundred year old hotel’s plumbing and heating to life.

Nolan Woodard has a cigarette after a long day of work on the Halsingland Hotel on on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, in Haines, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Woodard works as a carpenter, so he says he’s been careful to ask for help so he doesn’t break anything.

“[I’m] just kind of helping and trying to give support to the people who actually know what’s going on and gather up some crews that are just you know, hammer swing and dudes that are ready to help and fix and just kind of be there if we could be supportive,” he said.

He said so far there aren’t any major issues, despite the challenge of jump-starting an old system in freezing weather.

Upstairs, former employee Brandi Peters ran a final check of toiletries, bedding, plumbing and lightbulbs before shutting off the lights for the evening.

On Sunday, volunteers scrambled to open another of the hotel’s buildings— the borough issued an evacuation warning that could displace a roughly a third of the town if the experts determine that the conditions are right for another big landslide.