Dozens of people Tuesday evening got a chance to get better acquainted with proposals to overhaul the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area and further weigh in on plans to make sizable changes to Juneau’s most-visited site.
More than 40 people attended an open house that was held at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center to better understand seven sets of possible plans — including three that were developed based on concerns expressed about four initial alternatives — for renovating the recreation area.
Of the alternatives contained in a draft environmental impact statement released earlier this month, Alternative 5 is considered to be the most highly impactful option, with Alternative 6 being least impactful and Alternative 7 being right in the middle, according to the study.
A summary of all seven alternatives laid out during Tuesday’s open house are as follows:
— Alternative 1 – No Action: This option is defined as a continuation of current operation and maintenance activities.
— Alternative 2: This alternative was developed to update infrastructure and create recreation opportunities that can accommodate projected future visitor use while protecting the unique characteristics and outstanding beauty of the area, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
— Alternative 3: Alternative 3 was developed in response to the issues identified during public scoping related to wildlife and wildlife habitat, visitor experiences, and aquatic resources, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
— Alternative 4: Alternative 4 was developed to respond to public comments desiring an alternative that focuses development mainly within the already concentrated area near the visitor center rather than spread throughout the Mendenhall Glacier Recreational Area, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
— Alternative 5: Alternative 5 was developed in response to concerns about impacts to existing bear corridors, local access, and Mendenhall Lake. Facilities and infrastructure development are based on expected visitation over the next 30 years, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
— Alternative 6: Alternative 6 was developed in response to concerns about impacts to existing bear corridors, local access, existing scenic integrity and viewsheds, Mendenhall Lake, and air quality. This alternative proposes a shuttle service from the commercial overflow parking lot to access the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, proposed welcome center, and glacier and lake views, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
— Alternative 7 :Alternative 7 was developed to analyze a welcome center placed in a remote location and access to the Visitor Center and lake and glacier views via a shuttle service in response to concerns about impacts to existing bear corridors, local access, existing scenic integrity and viewsheds, and Mendenhall Lake, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
More comprehensive comparisons of the alternatives are available online at fs.usda.gov/project/?project=53780 under the NEW-MGRA Alternatives Comparison Table from SDEIS.pdf.
Additional public comment on the new supplemental draft environmental impact statement are being accepted until Feb. 21, according to acting Forest Supervisor Frank Sherman, at which point Sherman said an additional review of comments will be required before putting together a recommendation that will go to Sherman directly so he can make what’s called a record of decision, which Sherman said he hopes to have wrapped up by June of this year.
“We had over 400 unique comments, which was unusual, that’s extremely high for a project this size,” Sherman said. “It just shows that the public is engaged and they want to be a part of the process and I think we did a great job listening to them, coming up with three more alternatives for them to take a look at and so really, I’ve got quite the job now.”
Sherman added that printed copies of the study were made available for on-site use at the Juneau libraries and the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center the week of Jan. 9. The in-person open house will be followed by a 5:30-7:30 p.m. Thursday webinar. A link to the webinar and additional information is available at https://usfs-public.app.box.com/v/PinyonPublic/file/1120264642343, and a call-in option can be accessed by calling 1-669-444-9171.
Juneau residents who attended the open house offered a variety of opinions on the proposal.
Juneau resident Susanne Badilla has lived on Arctic Circle near Skater’s Cabin for nearly 28 years and said her main concern is seeing the westside of Mendenhall Lake remain untouched.
“Improved trails are great, lots of people hike, but I guess my main feeling is that there has to be a place where those folks can go and not be inundated by tourists, tour buses, etc.,” Badilla said. “They should do a survey of all the local people using the area because I think they’re very focused on these visitors that come for only two to three months in the summer, but there are a lot more people that use it.”
Catherine Fritz, a Juneau resident for almost four decades, said that while she can see that her comments have been discussed and considered, ultimately her biggest concerns remain around intensity of the use of the area.
“Adding human-built things into this natural environment is a very fragile and delicate balance,” Fritz said. “I’m not sure that lots of bridges and paved roads and trails that are 14 feet wide and paved are kind of a road in my mind. I’m not sure how all of that is going to maintain this as the really precious place that it is.”
Rico Tempel has been in Juneau for 32 years and said he not only prefers the alternative with the least amount of impact, he furthermore thinks the glacier should have a seasonal cap on visitors.
“I prefer not to have any boats on the lake because I’ve been to other places where they do have boats and narrators on the boats and you can hear voices all across the lake, so I like the alternative with the least amount of impact,” Tempel said. “Including the trails, if you build too many trails it’ll push away all of the wildlife, the bears might disappear somewhere else or porcupines, as well.”