Mendenhall Glacier Visitor’s Center gets a new director

Mendenhall Visitor Center (Photo by Reywas92/Wikimedia Commons)

The busiest time of the year for the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor’s Center is getting underway with a new director.

John Neary is taking over from retiring director Ron Martin.

Neary has spent decades working in Alaska’s outdoors and the job at Mendenhall is a position he says he is very happy to have. His work as a wilderness manager with the Juneau ranger district and Admiralty Island prepared him for this position he says. He plans to bring all of that experience and community connections to his new work.

Neary is already busy with lining up his goals for the center. He sees a need for a number of improvements that he says will improve the viewing experience. Problems such as the long wait for restrooms, congested traffic, and unsafe areas are not suitable for the “world-class” Mendenhall, Neary says.

“A few days ago I was watching an older gentleman—and I was some distance from him—but he walked down on the beach right past a sign that said dangerous rocks ahead and he walked up on to the rocks and with his first step he slipped and slammed down onto his shoulder. And I thought ‘oh no, the poor guy is going to have some major injury,’ but he stood up and held his elbow and hobbled back towards us and he was okay. But you can see that’s an accident waiting to happen and it just begs for a really good design solution to have a nice kind of loop trail that goes through this area that people really want to go through, out to Photo Point.”

Neary emphasizes the importance of access to locals as well as tourists.

“We are the drive-up glacier–there’s, as you know, lots of glaciers in Alaska—but what makes the Mendenhall unique is the fact that we have this great highway that comes right up to it and you get a wonderful view, nice trails, very accessible and that’s our niche really. What we want to be able to develop is the partnerships with the tour operators, with local residents, with everybody else who enjoys that easy access to ensure the flow works well here.”

Neary calls Mendenhall our backyard glacier and says that Juneau values it highly. He says his goal is to preserve opportunities at the glacier for both residents and visitors.

The summer season is just getting underway, but Neary says people are quickly discovering what makes Mendenhall so special.

“Right now we have bears feeding on grass and cottonwood trees and that makes for a wonderful drive up bear-viewing experience which is also unique in Alaska. There are very few of them. Most of them entail expeditions to get out to some remote area.”