Summer Stampeder: My Introduction to Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park

Summer Stampeder: My Introduction to Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park

Tsu haa káa ḵeiwa.aa!1 My name is Isabella Yallapragada, and I’m lucky to be a natural resources intern at Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Skagway, Alaska this summer. I completed my Bachelor’s in Environmental Management at Indiana University. I’m currently pursuing my Master’s degrees in Public Affairs and Environmental Science at my alma mater. This summer I’ll be focused on conducting coastal waterbird and amphibian surveys, as well as invasive exotic species management. I’m also passionate about natural resource management schemes that center indigenous knowledge, culture, and history so I hope to grow my understanding of the Tlingit peoples and their philosophies while I’m here!

Historic, gold rush-era Broadway St.

Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park can be a difficult place to find on a map of southeast Alaska. Hidden in a fjord at the northernmost part of the Alexander Archipelago, the eye is more immediately drawn to Glacier Bay National Park or Tongass National Forest, but follow the Lynn Canal north into the Chilkoot Inlet, and at its end, you’ll find Skagway, tucked between snow-capped ridges. I arrived at Skagway by seaplane and was quickly introduced to the throngs of tourists exploring the park’s gold rush-era streets. Established in 1976 to commemorate the flurry of thousands of gold prospectors that inundated the town between 1896-1899, the park now welcomes a much less feverish crowd of cruise ship tourists and outdoor recreationists. While the park’s streets have been bustling for several centuries, I’ve found that it’s on quiet mornings during my walks to work that the history comes alive—how many people before me have marveled at Skagway’s colorful architecture and wondered what they would find in the mountains encircling them? The prospectors were dreaming of heavy gold nuggets, but I’m hoping for a moose or bear sighting.

The streets of historic, frontier Skagway are certainly an appealing backdrop for my summer office work. However, in my two weeks at the park I’ve found that much of the magic of this place cannot be found in the park’s museums but rather in the landscapes that surround it. Skagway is an anglicized form of the Shgagweí, meaning “rugged” or “wrinkled up” to the Chilkat and Chilkoot Tlingit peoples to whom Skagway, and the Upper Lynn Canal more generally, belong. Tlingit legend details that the name Shgagweí once belonged to a beautiful woman who one day, provoked by her an insult from her husband, disappeared into the mountain. It’s said that the icy, northern winds that characterize Skagway are the breaths of her spirit (Thornton, 2004). Very rarely does my environmental coursework back home (and I’d argue in many environmental degrees across the country) explore the cultural and emotional connections to the lands we work on. Even less often is the acknowledgement of life extended beyond flora and fauna. I’m hopeful that the way I work in and move through the natural world will be informed by these native perspectives.

1. Tlingit translation: “It has dawned on us again!”  Tlingit is the ancestral language of the Chilkat and Chilkoot Tlingit peoples. The phrase is a classic greeting (Twitchell, 2017).


Thornton, T.F. (2004). Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park Ethnographic Overview and Assessment. National Park Service.

Twitchell, X.L. (2022). Lingít G̲unéi Sh Tóo Dultóow Xʼúxʼ Workbook for Beginning to Study Lingít. Sealaska Heritage Institute.

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