Visitor center opens doors for locals

Winter lecture series to start this Friday

Posted: Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Staff at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center host several hundred thousand tourists every summer, but come winter, things slow down and turn inward, Interpreter Laurie Craig said.

Courtesy Of Laurie Craig
Courtesy Of Laurie Craig

Hours are reduced, the entrance fee is dropped and programs at the U.S. Forest Service-run center are geared toward locals, such as field trips for school children to learn details about the glacier.

A Friday night lecture series is one of the most popular winter programs. It began nearly 50 years ago in 1962, the year the center opened.

People would gather near a crackling fireplace to hear experts talk about human and natural history, said Craig, who remembers visiting in the 1970s shortly after she came to Juneau.

"We would sit around the fire and it would keep getting hotter. We would keep moving back but - back then it was before fleece and we all wore wool - we all smelled like wet dogs," she said. "There was a little projector on a small screen, like people use to show home movies on."

It's a little bit different now, but the Friday night events still provide that same social connection, said Craig, who is the evening host. "This is just great fun for me. It's like I have a party with 200 people every Friday night."

This year's series starts Friday and runs through March.

Presentations are held in the auditorium where side shows appear on a 12-foot projection screen. Cookies and hot beverages keep up a social atmosphere, Craig said.

In addition to an opportunity to socialize, the chats are a great way for locals to get to know what's going on outside their windows.

A lot of different scientific research occurs in Juneau, and the lectures give researchers a chance to tell what they're working on, but Craig said it's not a science-paper-recital type of presentation.

Craig said she advises speakers to leave out charts and graphs and instead use lots of pictures for an educational, yet entertaining, program.

Retired Alaska Department of Fish and Game employee Tom Paul kicks off the series this week with an explanation of the history of wildlife transplants from one location to another in Southeast Alaska.

Other speakers this month will talk about Coast Guard operations in the Arctic, the newly formed Heen Latinee Experimental Forest and submarine explorations of the Bering Sea Canyons.

Lectures begin at 6:30 p.m. and repeat at 8 p.m.

For more information, call 789-0097.

Funds collected from the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act throughout the summer help pay for the winter lecture series.

• Contact reporter Kim Marquis at 523-2279 or by e-mail at

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