Phil Algar looks out the window at the Mendenhall Valley Glacier Visitor Center, Saturday, March 2, 2019. Algar, who was visiting from White Horse was surprised by the crowd at the center Saturday for an open house. (Ben Hohenstatt | Juneau Empire)

Phil Algar looks out the window at the Mendenhall Valley Glacier Visitor Center, Saturday, March 2, 2019. Algar, who was visiting from White Horse was surprised by the crowd at the center Saturday for an open house. (Ben Hohenstatt | Juneau Empire)

Mendenhall Glacier master plan calls for major change

Nothing is set in stone, but proposed plan could mean boats, a restaurant and more

The sights that will greet visitors to the Mendenhall Glacier will be drastically different in 50 years and could change substantially over the next decade.

During an open house for a proposed master plan for Mendenhall Valley Glacier Recreation Area and Visitor Center held Saturday at the visitor center, a tentative vision was outlined that would bring expanded parking, boats and docks, a welcome center equipped for concessions, visitor center expansion, a mobile center at the glacier and a number of trail changes and improvements.

“When this visitor center was built, there were 23,000 visitors per year, and now there’s over 700,000,” said James King, Alaska Region Director of Recreation, Land and Minerals for U.S. Forest Service. “It’s time to adjust to serve the public.”

[Mendenhall moving toward overhaul]

“We know this is Juneau’s playground, and longtime Juneauites love it,” he added. “Everyone who visits it also loves it and has a right to enjoy it.”

The master plan was developed in part through six public meetings held between 2016 and 2018. It has a 50 year scope with an emphasis on the next 10 years.

Dru Fenster, Alaska Region public affairs specialist for U.S. Forest Service, said there will be multiple chances for public in put during the environmental assessment of the proposed plan and comment cards were being accepted Saturday.

“It’s really important to hear what their concerns are,” Fenster said.

It’s also important, she said to mention the project as currently proposed will be different from what ultimately happens.

“Right now, it’s important to understand nothing is in stone,” Fenster said.

King said the project is currently a “high-level vision” and many aspects of it are not yet fully fleshed out.

“We haven’t drilled down to figure out what all the details will be,” King said.

An environmental assessment, which will help determine things such as what type of boats would be best to transport visitors from five proposed docks to the receding face of the glacier and other points of interest, is unlikely to be completed before late this year.

“Whether those motors would be electric or diesel, we haven’t gotten to that level,” King said.

Once the assessment is completed, King said the proposed project with a price tag he estimated at about $80 million would enter designing stages, and the hope would be to have design work done by 2022.

He said construction would ideally start shortly thereafter.

How long the project would take is dependent on funding, King said, and it will likely have to occur in phases. He said funding would come from a mix of public and private sources and is being pursued so the project will be able to begin once planning is completed.

[Man safe after falling through ice at Mendenhall Lake]

“Highest priority is restrooms and parking,” King said. “That’s where our most congestion and safety issues are.”

As proposed, that part of the plan would double parking for non-commercial vehicles and and a reconfigured and enlarged drop-off and pick-up area for commercial vehicles. The non-commercial parking will be located along Glacier Spur Road, according to the plan.

Next phases would include docks and boats, a welcome center, a Steep Creep Trail extension and other proposed efforts.

Turnout to the open house was strong, organizers said, and about 95 people had come into the visitor center within the event’s first 75 minutes.

A short seven-minute film about the project was shown and Forest Service employees were present to answer questions, provide more information and take comment cards.

Juneau resident Micah Sommers was among those who filled out a comment card.

Sommers said he recommended making the sledding hill bigger.

“It’s beloved by all,” he said.

Additionally, Sommers advised building fewer than five docks because the proposed total seems excessive and making a proposed bridge wide enough for two lanes of skate skiing.

Overall, Sommers said the plan was thorough, which other attendees noted.

“It’s very well developed,” said Juneau resident Justine Muench. “They thought through all the issues I can see.”

However, Muench said rearranging things and introducing new activities doesn’t in her opinion address a fundamental concern.

“I still worry about the large number of people and impact on the environment,” she said. “I think we should be limiting people in addition to redesigning for access issues.”


• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.


Eric Ouderkirk, left, Alaska Region regional landscape architect for the U.S. Forest Service, talks with Juneau resident Justine Muench, far right, in the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, Saturday, March 2, 2019. (Ben Hohenstatt | Juneau Empire)

Eric Ouderkirk, left, Alaska Region regional landscape architect for the U.S. Forest Service, talks with Juneau resident Justine Muench, far right, in the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, Saturday, March 2, 2019. (Ben Hohenstatt | Juneau Empire)

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