Nature is even more accessible at the Mendenhall Glacier this year.
The Moraine Ecology Trail at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center was upgraded this summer with a paved path and bridges that elevate visitors over salmon spawning grounds. The revamped trail makes wilderness more accessible for visitors, center Assistant Director Wayne Ward said.
"It's a beautiful trail. It's handicap accessible, and people off the cruise ships can do it quickly and get back to their ships," he said.
The trail is also a great place to see and learn about the plants and animals that inhabit the area, Ward said.
Black bears frequently amble up the stream and snatch sockeye in clear view of visitors mingling on the trail in late summer. Sometimes bears can be heard crunching on salmon bones from the bushes.
"It just seems like it's added a great deal. Each time we come out, we see a large group of people, some of them tourists and some of them locals," said Bob Clark, a 38-year resident of Juneau. "It seems to me like it's been a real beneficial addition to the glacier out here."
Clark said he comes out to the Moraine Ecology Trail about three times a week to view and photograph bears. He said he saw two separate sows with two cubs each in two days this week.
"We used to be up at the (viewing platform) before they extended this - and of course you couldn't come down the trail," Clark said. "And now you're right above where you used to not be able to come. It's wonderful."
Summer resident Linda Nelson was bear watching Thursday evening on the trail with her husband, Jim, and friends.
"I think what I like about this is we still see them more often at the first lookout that they had here, but when they come down here the background and the scenery and the openness allows you to really view them," she said. "That makes it a lot nicer because you can see them in the stream."
Her husband says the bears are quite photogenic.
"This is one of our favorite hobbies, coming out here at night and seeing the bears," Jim Nelson said. "We get excellent bear pictures here."
Ward said many of the visitors who use the trail are fascinated and inquisitive about the salmon that attract the bears.
"Some people are startled that the salmon have died in the stream and are startled that we don't clean them out of the stream," he said.
Porcupines, beavers, squirrels, birds and multiple species of plants can be observed from the trail, Ward said. He said he cautions people to be attentive and respectful to all wildlife, especially the bears.
"We do caution for people to keep their children close to them and keep their dogs on leashes," he said.
"I've never been afraid of the bears, but I think you have to understand that they're not teddy bears," Linda Nelson said. "You do have to respect them. They're awesome animals."
She said she has seen bears on the trail and that people should obey safe wildlife viewing practices.
"I think that people should respect it, especially the local community," she said. "It is a place where they can walk with their family and their dogs, but keep them on a leash and keep the children under control."
Jim Nelson said he has witnessed the Moraine Ecology Trail getting lots of use recently.
"We meet a lot of people here too. We have our bear watching friends," he said laughing.
"We just wish so many people wouldn't come out here," he joked.
Eric Morrison can be reached at email@example.com.