First of all, thank you to the Juneau Empire for providing a place, through your My Turn forum, for community exchange of thoughts and personal opinions.
The My Turn article penned by Stacey Thomas and published on July 23 is most certainly opinionated. However, it misses the point on some of the facts. Ms. Thomas’ opinion is that the Forest Service closes the Moraine Ecology Trail, that she refers to as the Steep Creek Trail, only for greed.
Ms. Thomas fails to acknowledge that the best and safest bear viewing areas in the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area are the Steep Creek platforms that are still open to the public.
In 2007, which was prior to the construction of the Steep Creek bear viewing platforms, there was high bear activity on the Moraine Ecology Trail. Our guides witnessed and even intervened on some “low-bear-aware” public behavior. The Forest Service, and rightfully so, made the management decision to seasonally have a bear closure on the Moraine Ecology Trail.
Because of Gastineau Guiding’s extensive bear safety training, both with the Forest Service and internally, we have been permitted to continue using the trail during the bear closure. In my opinion, this is not hypocrisy, this is service. It extends an experience to people all over the country, and the world for that matter, who visit one of Alaska’s most popular destinations.
Gastineau Guiding does not take our presence in the area lightly. Our guides are well trained in people management and give an extensive bear and safety briefing prior to each interpretive walk. Guides are trained in First Response, bear behavior, bear spray use, bear viewing protocol and often practice techniques and scenarios. Communication with our office dispatch coordinator is swift and dependable. We have training sessions preseason and a refresher with the Forest Service mid-season before the bear closure.
The statement that the “Steep Creek Trail” remains open to guided use because of greed is not correct and misses the target on the reasoning. It is not greed. The Forest Service did not consider the situation lightly when the trail was closed in 2007. They considered known black bear behaviors, as well as visitor behavior and guide capabilities. They consulted experts. They upped the level of Gastineau Guiding’s training protocol. They set the policy, which they continue to follow, that dispersing visitors throughout the Recreation Area is one of the best ways to manage growth. Finally, they considered the opportunity for our Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area visitors to learn about and respect our wildlife.
Having restricted guide-only access, whether it is a public or private guide, is not a new concept. The Forest Service has policies that specify how to evaluate the need for outfitter guides. This is not an elitist notion. It is because these places are sensitive and dangerous.
Several national parks in Africa, caves in Arizona, caves in Wrangell, shorelines in Antarctica, Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica, Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, just to name a few, require guide-only access.
I appreciate and respect management and regulation that give the public the opportunity to experience sensitive places in the world that would otherwise be off limits.
• Bob Janes is president of Gastineau Guiding Company.