The Chilkat River as seen from Mount Ripinsky in summer of 2017. (Emily Files)

Rainbow Glacier Adventures is one of several companies that offers rafting trips on the Chilkat River. (Emily Files)

A Haines tour company got the go-ahead to expand the capacity of river rafting trips in the Chilkat Valley this week. KHNS’s Abbey Collins reports.

The assembly supported Rainbow Glacier Adventures’ tour permit renewal. It includes increasing the number of guests allowed on rafting tours.

The expansion comes as RGA owner Joe Ordonez is contracting with UnCruise, a small-scale cruise line. Ordonez says his company’s goals make it the right fit to work with UnCruise.

But to fulfill the contract, Ordonez wants to expand from his current permit for 14 people per raft trip, to 44.

Since the permit was brought to the assembly, there have been mixed reactions from the community.

Residents and representatives from other local tour companies have raised concerns about crowding and put-ins and take-outs along the river. Worries about environmental damage, including salmon populations, and impact on local use were also raised.

Steven Auch spoke on behalf of Alaska Mountain Guides and Chilkat Guides at the assembly meeting.

“All operators currently on the river in the Haines Borough permits require the maximum number of tours per day, maximum daily use and number of uses per week,” said Auch. “This includes River Adventures, Haines Rafting, Alaska Mountain Guides and Chilkat Guides. The Rainbow Glacier Adventures application does not include this information.”

Ordonez says, after hearing concerns, he won’t use the popular 14-mile pullout.

The assembly amended his application as requested. It specifies RGA is permitted for two tours of a maximum of 44 people per day, at an average of two days per week, based on the UnCruise schedule.

Chilkat Indian Village President Kimberly Strong asked the assembly to delay a decision on the permit. In a written letter, she asked Klukwan  be brought into the decision making process.

The village sits on the banks of the Chilkat River, about 22 miles north of Haines.

Strong expressed concerns about rafting getting out of control if permits continue to be approved without their input. In the letter, she also points to the business partnership between the Jilkaat Kwaan Heritage Center in Klukwan and Chilkat Guides/Alaska Mountain Guides. 

Assembly member Heather Lende addressed Strong’s letter at Tuesday’s meeting.

“This wasn’t the permit to look at capacity on because if we denied Joe the permit it would simply be picked up by another provider that already has that capacity,” said Lende. “So it wouldn’t be changing anything it would be just to prove a point. I did tell her that I would certainly want to include the village in any further discussions we might have, related to what we talked about at the cow. Talking about capacity, talking about put-ins, talking about impacts.”

Strong couldn’t be reached for comment by the time this story was reported.

Others, including Haines’ former tourism director, have supported the increased capacity. Leslie Ross sent the assembly a letter of support for the expansion.

She expressed concern that if RGA were denied, the UnCruise contract would just go to another company that already has a larger tour capacity.

The assembly voted unanimously in favor of Ordonez’s request. It also includes a new private tour to Kroschel Wildlife Center.


Editor’s note: This post was updated to better reflect the relationship between the Chilkat Indian Village of Klukwan and Chilkat Guides/Alaska Mountain Guides, as described in Kimberly Strong’s letter to the assembly.