Barb Miranda has worked with the U.S. Forest Service on-and-off for her entire adult life. So, when the opportunity to be the director of the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center opened up, she put her name in for the job.
Much to her delight she got the job, but the timing was not the best.
“My first day on the job I had to close the visitor center,” Miranda said.
Closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic forced the center’s doors shut, but in the absence of actual visitors, the center has found other ways to reach out to the community. Drive-in movies have been hosted in the nearby bus parking lot, she said, and the center partnered with the Goldtown Theater to host a Safe Graduation night for Juneau’s seniors.
The drive-ins have been a fun way to reach out to the public, Miranda said, and they are hoping to do more in a “Science on Screen” series.
“People can expect additional drive-in movie opportunities with a talk from a scientists,” Miranda said, adding that some of the films may be a little “blockbuster-y” but there would always be a learning component.
Like many during the shutdown, the visitor center has gone online to try and reach out to the public. The center’s Facebook page was updated with news and (socially-distanced) events, and the center’s livestreamed Arctic Tern camera gives the public a chance to watch nesting birds (and was a good way to check the weather at the glacier, Miranda added).
While the shutdown, and the lack of the tourist season and the money that comes with it, will mean the center is looking at a reduced budget, long-term plans are still in the works Miranda said.
Plans to greatly expand attractions at the glacier, including having boats transport tourists close enough to touch the face of the glacier, are still in progress, Miranda said, and the environmental assessment of those plans should come out in the fall as planned.
Some local residents have opposed all or parts of that plan, saying its impact on the local environment would be too great.
One of those who commented against the plan was Miranda’s predecessor, John Neary, who criticized certain aspects of the plan as not doing enough to lower the environmental impact of tourist activities. Miranda said she was unfamiliar with the details of the plan and declined to comment, but encouraged the public to submit public comment once the assessment is released in October.
Before accepting the job in February, Miranda was working for the U.S. Census Bureau but said she had been involved with the Forest Service since she was 18.
She lived and worked for many years in the Yosemite Valley before taking a job at Glacier Bay National Park. Miranda is also a former mayor of Gustavus, a post which she held for three years before moving to Juneau to work for the Census Bureau. Before applying for the position, Miranda said she spoke with Neary about the job and what it would entail.
Even with the visitor center itself being closed, the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area is still getting its fair share of visitors, albeit far fewer than normal.
And without the crowds of tourists to drive them away, staff have noticed more bears, and more male bears, in the area. Staff have seen different behaviors from bears and people visiting the glacier should take extra precautions, Miranda said, and urged those with dogs to keep them on a leash.
Officials are evaluating the situation at the visitor center and will work with the community for a phased reopening, the Forest Service said in a news release.
For now, all trails remain open and seasonal fees have been waived, though donations can be made via kiosks in the visitor center parking lot.
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnoEmpire.