Cruise ship approaches Margerie Glacier in Glacier Bay National Park. (NPS)

Cruise ship approaches Margerie Glacier in Glacier Bay National Park. (NPS)

Alaska National Parks can hire the hundreds of seasonal employees they need to keep up with summer operations. Seasonal staffing was thrown into limbo when President Donald Trump ordered a federal hiring freeze in January. After about a month of questions and waiting, Alaska national parks can now get to business hiring summer staff.

Mike Tranel is superintendent of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Skagway. In December and January, the Klondike Park was interviewing summer job applicants and checking references, as usual. But before they were able to make final job offers:

“We just had to tell them that it’s on hold for now until we get final approval,” said Tranel.

That’s because the parks weren’t sure how their summer hires would be impacted by a federal hiring freeze President Trump announced shortly after he took office.

On Jan. 31, the Pentagon announced exemptions to the freeze, including seasonal and temporary staff ‘necessary to meet traditionally recurring seasonal workloads.’

But it wasn’t until late last week that national parks got the final green light. The park service needed to get seasonal hiring plans approved by the Federal Office of Management and Budget.

A park service spokesperson says on Friday, the OMB granted its approval.

“So now we’re able to go back to [job applicants] and officially offer them the job,” Tranel said.

The Klondike Parks’ operations in the winter versus the summer are like night and day. That’s true for a lot of national parks. In Skagway, nearly a million cruise ship visitors come to town each summer. The park is a big piece of the infrastructure that educates and entertains visitors, giving tours of historic Skagway and overseeing the popular Chilkoot Trail. It takes about 30 seasonal staff and 30 year-round employees.

“You know, we have about half or slightly more than half of our employees overall are seasonal,” Tranel said. “So it’s obviously a very important part of our staff and we’re looking forward to having them be here on time, ready to go so we’re ready for that first ship day.”

About 70 miles south of Skagway is Glacier Bay National Park. The superintendent there, Philip Hooge, found out Monday that he would be able to hire about 70 summer employees.

“It was exciting to see that,” Hooge said. “Exciting to see that we’re going to be open for business this summer, our quite large operation.”

Glacier Bay also serves hundreds of thousands of cruise ship visitors during the summer. But the interaction is different – instead of the ship docking and passengers going on land, park rangers are shuttled on board the ships to give talks there.

Hooge says the he thought the seasonal workers would be approved eventually because they are so vital to national parks’ operations. But he says the delay caused by the hiring freeze may mean some of their top candidates took jobs elsewhere.

“We know that when we go out to do offers, some of the people that we would have liked to catch will have found other positions because of the delay,” Hooge said.

Both Hooge and Tranel say the month of uncertainty caused by the hiring freeze was inconvenient, but it won’t hurt their ability to hire enough staff for the summer.

The same goes for Denali National Park. Public Information Coordinator Katherine Belcher says the park’s plan to hire about 200 seasonal staff has not been disrupted.