Chris Mertl, a landscape architect for Corvus Design, fields questions at a planning meeting for the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area on Wednesday.

Chris Mertl, a landscape architect for Corvus Design, fields questions at a planning meeting for the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area on Wednesday.

Community takes lead in glacier area upgrades

In retooling 6,000 acres of prized recreation area surrounding the Mendenhall Glacier, the U.S. Forest Service is taking a fresh approach: letting the community lead infrastructure redesign from the start.

The Forest Service hosted about 75 community members at the first of their eight “design charrettes” at the Juneau Ranger Station on Wednesday. The meetings will guide a conceptual development plan for improvements on glacier-area trails, camp sites and facilities. The Forest Service has a budget cap of $900,000 to spend on improvements for the area and wants to balance local priorities with tourism opportunities.

“We want to get a big picture idea of what happens in the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area, what are the opportunities, what are the constraints,” said landscape architect Christopher Mertl, who ran the first meeting. “The whole idea is that we want to have an engaged public process where you give us answers.”

Some Juneauites showed up ready to voice their opinions of overcrowding at the Visitor’s Center or tourist buses clogging Glacier Spur Road, but Mertl, a landscape architect for Corvus Design, insisted their design process start “slow and easy,” asking for attendees to write their favorite memories from the glacier on pink sticky notes and place them on a wall.

Attendees were also asked to mark topographical maps of the glacier area with ideas for new trails, bridges, camp sites and bridges. Though nothing was off the table at the meeting, a common theme was increased access to hiking areas on the shores of either side of Mendenhall Lake. Also, more dog bag dispensers on existing trails.

“Usually we come to everybody with a plan and everyone says they hate it,” Visitor’s Center Director John Neary joked. “Then we huddle up and talk and come back with something everyone also hates, and maybe more. This is a totally new approach for us.”

The plan will stick to recreation facilities and won’t touch the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area Management Plan, written in 1996.

“You can’t not have some discussion on management but we are not here to rewrite the Mendenhall Glacier Management Plan,” Mertl said.

At least one attendee, Sue Schrader, felt the Forest Service may be trying to fix management issues with new infrastructure, and felt their novel approach may be lacking focus.

“So far, I haven’t heard the Forest Service identify what are the problems,” Schrader said. “It sounds like too many tourists, … is the best reaction to that more facilities? It seems like that’s what they’re saying but I am not really sure if I agree with that. Can we take a step back and look at other ways other than adding more facilities? And the issue of the glacier melting out of view, well, maybe that has something to do with the 27 buses coming there everyday. Is the answer to move the visitor’s center closer to the glacier?”

For now, Schrader will have to wait to talk overcrowding at the glacier. Corvus Design and the Forest Service are keeping a blog of the charrettes at MGRA-MGVC.us where they will update the community on planning outcomes.

The next meeting, where community members will be asked to contribute to a broader “vision” for the MGRA will take place at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 13 at at the Juneau Ranger District offices on Mendenhall Loop Road.

• Contact Sports and Outdoors reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 or kevin.gullufsen@juneauempire.com.

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Chris Ouderkirk, Dani Snyder and Christopher Mertl work to identify favorite recreation activities, written on post-it notes, at a planning meeting for the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area.

Chris Ouderkirk, Dani Snyder and Christopher Mertl work to identify favorite recreation activities, written on post-it notes, at a planning meeting for the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area.

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