By RUSSELL STIGALL
Morris news Service – Alaska
Just a few years after the half-century mark of the state it serves, Alaska’s Marine Highway System hits the big five-o.
The marine highway system has gone through a number of changes since it first went into operation with the M/V Malaspina in 1963, Jeremy Woodrow, spokesperson for AMHS, said in an email interview. Serving areas beyond Southeast communities was an early step.
The vessels now visit the ports of 33 Alaska communities in Prince William Sound, Southcentral Alaska, Kodiak and along the Aleutian Chain. And AMHS makes regular runs to Bellingham, Wash., and Prince Rupert, British Columbia.
The ferry system also has grown beyond its original vessel; AMHS now sails 11 vessels in its fleet, including three built in the last decade — the open-deck Lituya and the controversial fast ferries Chenega and Fairweather.
The Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities plans to add one or two more ferries to the system over the next
“AMHS is always striving to provide a reliable level of service and looking toward improving service for travelers to and within Alaska,” Woodrow said. “This will be carried forward as the system moves into another decade of service, with the expectations of many more to follow.”
AMHS plans to celebrate its milestone as host to community events and contests, and to share its history online through photos, maps and stories throughout 2013. A special 50th anniversary web page will receive regular updates also.
As part of the celebrations, passengers can sign up to win anniversary golden tickets worth up to $500 in travel. A winner will be drawn monthly.
To find out more and to sign up for a chance to win an AMHS golden ticket visit www.ferryalaska.com/50years.
Those interested also can find announcements and share their Alaska Marine Highway stories on Facebook at facebook.com/AlaskaMarineHighway.
Russell Stigall is a reporter for the Juneau Empire.