FAIRBANKS, Alaska — The concessionaire for a state park near Delta Junction will end its contract and close on Friday because of an expected drop in tourist traffic next year.
Whitestone Farms has operated the seasonal gift shop and restaurant in the historic Rika's Roadhouse since 1988 at Big Delta State Historical Park.
A decision by Holland America to fly visitors next year between Fairbanks and Dawson City will eliminate the need for a motorcoach, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported (http://is.gd/92xRFv).
The park had 30,000 visitors last year, but Whitestone Farms accountant Josiah Keller says that's expected to drop by 80 percent next year. That, he said, was not enough projected traffic to keep the restaurant and gift shop open.
It's a continuation of the downward trend of highway traffic that's been happening for years, but Keller said the final blow was the determination to end the motorcoach route by Holland America.
"I would say since the late '90s there's been a steady decline in traffic," he said.
Holland America will fly visitors between Fairbanks and Dawson City beginning next year. Company spokesman Erik Elvejord said in an email to the News-Miner that this is intended to give visitors more time in Fairbanks, Denali National Park, Dawson City and Anchorage.
Even though Rika's Roadhouse is closing, the state intends to keep Big Delta State Historical Park open, Alaska State Parks northern region Superintendent Brooks Ludwig said.
The park, located near a historic stopping point for travelers, traders and military in the early 1900s, features eight historical buildings.
Rika's Roadhouse, which was open from 1913 to 1947, is named after the Swedish immigrant who operated it.
"We'll keep it open, clean and maintained," Ludwig said.
The state will bid this winter for a new concessionaire. Ludwig said Whitestone's decision wasn't a surprise, but hopes another vendor will take their spot. He said several people have expressed interest in informal discussions.
Delta Junction is about 90 miles southeast of Fairbanks on the Alaska Highway.
Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com