Glacier Bay Lodge may shut down after this season. Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve put out a prospectus for concession services in January but received no bids by the March 26 deadline. Closing Glacier Bay Lodge could have rippling effects on the economy of Gustavus.
For the past ten years, Glacier Bay Lodge has been run by a joint venture between food services company Aramark and Huna Totem Corporation. Aramark is headquartered in Philadelphia and also supplies concession services in Denali National Park and Preserve, among other parks around the country.
Besides running the Lodge and restaurant, Aramark and Huna Totem are responsible for providing day boat services, camper and kayak drop offs and pick-ups, marine fuel sales, ground transportation between Gustavus and Bartlett Cove, retail shop, and maintaining public showers on the Park campground. All these services are in danger of disappearing after this season.
Susan Boudreau is superintendent at Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. She says she asked interested parties why none of them put in a bid to run the lodge.
“The bottom line is it’s just not financially feasible. It hasn’t been making money. It hasn’t been making money for the past 20 years. Right now with the economy, it’s just a risk for them. They all ran the numbers and it’s just not the right timing for them.”
Boudreau is not worried about the park losing visitors if the lodge closes.
“I don’t really see how it can affect the National Park at all because the visitors are so intrigued about coming to the park. It’s on their bucket list. It’s the top of the line,” she says.
According to the National Park Service, more than 400,000 people visited Glacier Bay in 2011, most by cruise ship, but 25,ooo flew or ferried into Gustavus before entering Glacier Bay.
Gustavus Mayor Lou Cacioppo says losing Glacier Bay Lodge would be devastating.
“It would be a very serious blow to the economy directly and indirectly. We can guess what the fallout’s going to be but I’m sure it even encompasses more than what I’m realizing at this moment.”
Glacier Bay Lodge contains 56 rooms, which accounts for about half the rooms available in all of Gustavus. Cacioppo says the closure of the lodge would be a revenue hit for the city in regards to bed and sales tax.
JoAnn Lesh is president of the Gustavus Visitors Association and owns Gustavus Inn with her husband Dave.
“If the lodge closes, we’ll lose half of the beds in town which will decrease our ability to support all of these activities like kayaking, whale watching, charter fishing,” Lesh says.
Boudreau says the park is exploring other options. The first is the feasibility of a temporary 2-year concession contract for day boat and camper drop-off services for the 2014 and 2015 seasons. A second is determining if the January prospectus can be revised to make the contract more financially feasible. According to the park service, if a new prospectus is issued, a new concession contract probably would not be in place until the 2016 operating season.
A third option is extending the current contract with Aramark and Huna Totem for another two years. Aramark declined to comment for the story but offers this statement:
“We continue to speak with the National Park Service about the possibility of managing the lodge beyond the current contract, however, there are a number of factors to take into consideration before a decision can be made. In the meantime, we are focused on providing a high level of service for guests this year.”
Huna Totem Corporation did not return repeated phone calls regarding Glacier Bay Lodge.
Alaska’s congressional delegation in Washington, D.C. has gotten involved in the issue. Letters have been written to Interior Secretary Sally Jewel and National Park Service Director John Jarvis urging the lodge stay open.
After completion of this story, Huna Totem Corporation contacted KTOO with a statement regarding the possible closure of Glacier Bay Lodge. Huna Totem, in a joint venture with Aramark, holds the concession contract for the lodge, which ends this year, and did not put in a bid to continue to run the lodge.
Speaking through Thompson & Co, a PR firm based out of Anchorage, Huna Totem CEO Lawrence Gaffaney releases this statement:
“Huna Totem Corporation is committed to working with the National Park Service in Glacier Bay and sharing the personal story of our ancestral homeland, Sit’ Eeti Gheeyi, with visitors. While it’s our intention to continue offering authentic cultural programming for travelers in the park, we don’t know yet how the concession contracts may change. We are still talking with the Park Service and others on how to maintain a cultural and professional presence in the park and provide an improved experience for non-cruise ship visitors.”