Juneau once got to know a certain gregarious black wolf. Now, after seven years, that wolf is returning to the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, part of an educational display organized by author Nick Jans and the U.S. Forest Service. It’s on schedule to be completed at the end of November, but after raising around $25,000 Jans still needs about $5,000 to cover the whole cost of the project.
The name ‘Romeo’ isn’t anywhere on the display, something Jans said is fine with him.
“I totally understand where the Forest Service is coming from,” Jans said. “It’s not their mission to provide a memorial platform.”
“Those of us who knew Romeo or his story will understand the rest,” he added in an email. “Then there’s the plaque near Nugget Falls, which does name and commemorate the wolf by name, and the tour bus drivers telling his story. A statue of Abraham Lincoln doesn’t need a nameplate, does it?”
Romeo, of course, was a black wolf that frequented the area around the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center for years. Jans wrote a book about him, “A Wolf Called Romeo.” After Romeo was shot illegally in 2009, the court ordered his hide be loaned to the Forest Service for use in the display.
Jans is donating the exhibit to the Forest Service, which visitor center assistant director Nikki Hinds called “a huge undertaking.”
“It’s not just ‘here’s a wolf,’” she said.
That’s something Jans definitely seconds.
“It will be a high end, museum grade exhibit. From start to finish, we’ve gone with the best. Just the design process took several drafts and more than a year of back and forth, plus more money than I’d originally hoped the whole exhibit would cost. You can get a wolf mounted for a couple thousand bucks; this one was four times that, and for a good reason. The guy who worked on it has won national awards for his work— more a wildlife artist than a taxidermist,” Jans wrote.
The team that mounted the wolf will build a rock outcropping at the center, which they’ll blend into the existing exhibit, Jans said. There’s a bronze — not plaster — cast of one of his footprints.
Jans wrote the information on the interpretive panels. One focuses on glacial succession and the effect of an apex predator like a wolf “there hunting in the shadow of the glacier.” The other focuses on wolves as social animals, with a family structure.
“It was a good opportunity to get out some positive messages on wolves as well,” Jans said. “I don’t really have any illusion that all wolves are like this wolf was. He was a very, very, very unique individual.”
There’s also a recording of wolves howling available on a “sound wand,” a handheld device that will prevent the howling from clashing with other exhibit sounds.
“The fact is, this was the only — the only — way that we could protect his remains and respect them,” Jans said. “It wasn’t like we could have a sky burial on top of Mount McGinnis. This was the best thing to do, and the most appropriate thing to do. I think when people see this completed exhibit, they’re going to be pleasantly surprised, as I have been.”
The visitor center displays tell the story of what happens as a glacier recedes and plants and wildlife move in. It’s a story Hinds compares to a book — and a wolf can’t go in the first chapter.
It’s been a long process to fit the wolf in.
“It’s hard to belief the wolf was gone in 2009, and it wasn’t long after that — a year later, we had the agreement from the court to lend the skin to the Forest Service for this purpose,” Jans said.
Most of the money they’ve raised for the project has been “in Bernie Sanders amounts,” Jans said, adding “I’m really hoping Juneau businesses, and the people of Juneau, will pitch in and drive this project into the barn. The story of this wolf is part of Juneau’s history, and this exhibit will be a lasting testament to that remarkable and unique time, something that a half million people a year will see.”
The Juneau Community Foundation is accepting donations on its website, and Jans said around $25,000 has been raised. In order to happen, the display still requires around $5,000 more in donations. Jans has said he’ll finance it himself if he has to.
“This wolf exhibit is really something that is part of Juneau’s legacy and adds to our town’s history,” Jans said.
The smallest donation he’s gotten is a quarter from a kid. The biggest was from a certified public accountant from Wisconsin who cried after attending a presentation Jans gave.
“It’s been a long journey, but it surely has been worthwhile,” Jans said.
• To read a previous article about the display, go to http://juneauempire.com/outdoors/2014-10-24/black-wolf-exhibit-planned-v....