The U.S. Forest Service on Friday announced that the Mendenhall Lake sites are closed due to flooding from the jökulhlaup.
Mendenhall Lake Campground, Nugget Falls Trail and Skater’s Cabin Road are closed, according to a news release from the agency.
Recreationists should be aware of potential flooding and that conditions are changing.
For up-to-date campground information, call 321-2361, and for the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, call 789-0097.
Several groups of rafters bobbed happily down the Mendenhall River Thursday afternoon, their laughs and hollers audible from the houses along river. The rafters certainly seemed to enjoy the fact the river was more lively and white-capped than usual due to an ongoing jökulhlaup, or glacier outburst flood.
But for many people in Juneau — especially those who live and camp near the river — this first jökulhlaup of the 2016 season is no cause for celebration; it’s cause for concern.
Marc Ramonda, a recreation manager with the Juneau Ranger District, had to evacuate the Mendenhall Lake Campground Thursday afternoon due to the rising water levels, a move he said will likely impact upward of 100 people by the time July Fourth weekend is in full swing.
He hopes to have the campground reopened at some point Saturday, but it’s too early to tell whether that will happen.
“This is a big weekend,” Ramonda said. “Usually if the weather is reasonable, we hit 90 percent occupancy on these big holiday weekends.”
That likely won’t be possible for at least the first half of this weekend, and the flood has already displaced about 65 campers, “and it will impact a lot more (Friday) because it’s the beginning of the weekend,” he said.
On Thursday morning, the National Weather Service issued a flood warning for people near the Mendenhall Lake and River. For the first time since 2014, the weather service is predicting a major glacier outburst flood.
Suicide Basin, a depression above the Mendenhall Lake filled with rain and melted glacier, began draining into the Mendenhall Lake Thursday morning. Weather forecasters don’t expect the lake’s water level to peak until Saturday morning, at which point they think it will be more than 11.5 feet.
If this prediction comes to fruition, this will be the second largest glacier outburst flood on record, following a July flood in 2014 when the lake crested at 11.85 feet.
The Mendenhall Lake campers aren’t the only people who will be impacted by this most recent jökulhlaup. The Mendenhall River was already beginning to creep closer to homes along View Drive in the Mendenhall Valley on Thursday afternoon, and the water level of the lake was only at about 6.5 feet. (Flood stage is 9 feet, and View Drive starts to flood at 9.4 feet.)
Unlike the campers, who are being moved to a temporary campsite set up near Floyd Dryden Middle School, the residents of View Drive can’t move as easily. One resident, even had to raise his house onto stilts to avoid the flooding that has become commonplace since the jökulhlaups began in 2011.
Mike Laudert, a general foreman for the Alaska Electric Light and Power Company, was out on View Drive Thursday afternoon to inspect the water level and check one of the street’s transformers, which has been impacted by flooding in the past.
During the big flood of 2014, the city had to evacuate View Drive residents because the water level rose above the transformer, causing AEL&P to shut off power to the whole street until the water receded. The power company spent about $5,000, Laudert estimates, to raise the transformer a few feet off the ground last year to avoid a repeat.
“We basically put a lift kit on it — a transformer lift kit just like a truck,” Laudert said with a laugh. “This is the only one like it in town.”
The Nugget Falls trail at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center will likely be closed all day today, according to the visitor center’s director John Neary.
“If the predictions are true the Photo Point Trail will likely be closed as well Saturday morning,” Neary said, adding that, “The Nugget Falls Trail will likely be closed the whole weekend if it reaches that peak.”
Even the happy rafters might not be able to enjoy the river much longer. According to Ramonda and Mike Dilger, recreation resources planner with the Juneau Ranger District, Skaters Cabin Road will likely have to be closed at some point Friday.
“And that impacts all the commercial tour operations that take off from there,” Dilgen said.
• Contact reporter Sam DeGrave at 523-2279 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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