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New plans aimed to increase tourism to Mendenhall Glacier

Public comment to be taken at Thursday meeting

Posted: August 27, 2013 - 11:05pm
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Jack Hempstead of the U.S. Forest Service directs bus traffic at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center on Monday.  Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Jack Hempstead of the U.S. Forest Service directs bus traffic at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center on Monday.

Know & Go:

What: Public meeting to present new Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center capacity plan.

When: 6 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 29 at the Juneau District Ranger Office, 8510 Mendenhall Loop Road.

Details: Free and open to the public. Find more information online at the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area Commercial Use Analysis Project site

U.S. Forest Service plans to increase commercial tours at the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area have been several years in the making, and will be presented to the public at a meeting this week. The plans would change capacity numbers to jibe with today’s tourism industry — something that hasn’t been evaluated since 1996, Juneau District Ranger Marti Marshall said.

The plan is to increase capacity for Mendenhall Glacier sites, allowing more people to visit, Marshall said. With more and more tours coming to the glacier over the years, what was acceptable traffic in 1996 isn’t necessarily working by today’s standards. She said tour companies have wanted to increase traffic to the glacier for several years.

“We’re just trying to tackle part of the plan to bring it into today,” Marshall said.

Since 1996, tourism season has lengthened, one of the reasons capacity needs to be tweaked, Marshall said. The plan would increase commercial use days by 28 by changing visitor season from May 15 through Sept. 15 to May 1 through Sept. 30.

The plan would also prohibit commercial tours from using the Nugget Creek Trail, Steep Creek Trail and Photo Point Trail, and would turn the East Glacier Trail into a one-way loop.

However, congestion at the Visitor Center has increased to the point where there are commonly 20-minute lines to use the restrooms, Marshall said. Visitor Center capacity would not be raised through the plans for this reason, she said. The Juneau District Ranger Office does have goals to change infrastructure at the Visitor Center to lessen crowding once the proposed plans that tackle capacity problems are approved, Marshall said.

“A really high priority for us is to look forward to completing a master plan for the Visitor Center,” she said.

The entire plan can be viewed online at mendenhalluse.info. Input will be taken on the plans at a public meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Juneau District Ranger Office, 8510 Mendenhall Loop Road.

“The goal is to start the discussion with the proposal,” Marshall said. “We want to balance industry needs with local use.”

• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at katherine.moritz@juneauempire.com.

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