Concept art from the U.S. Forest Service's draft environmental impact statement should what a proposed expansion at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center could look like. The Forest Service is currently taking public comment on the expansion and will hold an open house at the visitor center on March 15. (Courtesy Image / U.S. Forest Service)

Forest Service presents revised Mendenhall expansion plans

Public comment is open again and an open house is coming

The U.S. Forest Service announced it will hold a March 15 open house as it seeks public comment on a proposed expansion of the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center.

The Forest Service hasn’t settled on a final plan yet, but the expansion would bring significant changes to the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area. In addition to changes to the main visitor center complex, additional buildings are being proposed on the lakefront and out near the glacier itself.

The expansion is being proposed as the Forest Service looks to better accommodate the increasing number of tourists arriving each year. According to the Forest Service, cruise ship passengers make up 80% of the tourists at the visitor center. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of passengers arriving in Alaska was steadily increasing. With pandemic restrictions coming down, the tourist industry in Alaska is expecting those numbers to quickly rebound.

During past public comment periods, Juneauites have expressed concern at some of the proposals, particularly the idea of commercial motorized boats across Mendenhall Lake.

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The Forest Service’s initial proposal would have allowed motorized boats powered by “alternative fuel or low emission type motors,” according to plan documents. But following past public comment periods the Forest Service put forward two other options, one which would allow only electric-powered boats and another with no motorized boats at all.

Officials are considering four alternatives for the expansion. Now known as Alternative 2, the Forest Service’s proposed action will have the most changes and proposes paving over the pond currently between the two parking lots near the visitor center. Alternative 3 is similar to the proposed action but leaves the pond in place and allows only electric boats on Mendenhall Lake. Alternative 4 would have no boats on the lake and have the fewest changes other than Alternative 1, the no-action alternative.

There is no preferred alternative, Forest Service spokesperson Paul Robbins said in an email.

Over the course of several years the Forest Service said it’s hoping to add parking and access expansion; a new Welcome Center complex; Visitor Center improvements’ Glacier Spur Road trailheads; a Lakeshore Trail along the south shore of Mendenhall Lake; public use cabins; restoration of Steep Creek; Steep Creek Trail expansion; docks and motorized commercial boat use on Mendenhall Lake; a remote glacier visitor area and new and improved multi-use trails throughout the recreation area.

An open house will be held Tuesday, March 15, at the visitor center from 11:45 a.m. to 8 p.m., according to the Forest Service. Expansion information will be on display and staff will be available to discuss the project. There will also be an online webinar on March 31, from 5:30-7:30 p.m., according to the Forest Service.

Public comment can be submitted online, by fax to 907-586-8808 or mailed to 8510 Mendenhall Loop Road, Juneau, Alaska, 99801 . Project materials are available at the Forest Service website.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

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