Forest Service wants your input on the Mendenhall Glacier

Summer tourists surround Nugget Falls during a visit to Mendenhall Glacier. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

Summer tourists surround Nugget Falls during a visit to Mendenhall Glacier. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

Nearly half a million cruise ship tourists visited the Mendenhall Glacier last year.

John Neary is director of the glacier’s visitor center, run by the U.S. Forest Service. He’s trying to figure out how to maximize enjoyment of the glacier as both a National Forest destination for tourists and a city park for locals.

Neary says part of that involves informing people about climate change and its effect on the glacier.

“How can we give people a message about sustainability? How can we motivate the community and others to step forward and say this looks like a great opportunity to affect half a million people a year with a very proactive message about, ‘What can I do to help climate change?’” he says.

Neary wants to start creating a master plan for the Mendenhall Glacier and its visitor center. He’s speaking at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center at 7 p.m. tonight about “Changes Coming to Your Backyard Glacier.” He says it’s an opportunity for people to say what they want the visitor center and surrounding area to look like in the next couple of decades. Community input in the plan is critical, including from local residents who participate in tourism, like bus and taxi drivers.

“I would hope that the industry leaders, the company owners would come out to the table. I would hope that the agency representatives that represent the bears or the salmon or the birds or all the wildlife that has no voice – I would hope they would come to the table to advocate for those resources,” Neary says.

Each year, 465,000 cruise ship visitors are allowed to visit the glacier, a limit imposed by the Forest Service. Permitted tour companies are each allocated a certain portion of that total.

Neary says the tourism industry would like to bring more visitors, but there are limitations, including current infrastructure and complying with environmental regulations.

“Until we have better traffic flow and better parking and better restrooms, more stalls – until we have those things in place, we can’t just offer more, more, more. We’re saying it’s a community response we need to this and we don’t have the funding, so we have to come up with other solutions,” Neary says.

Meanwhile, the public can expect to see a change at Mendenhall Glacier as early as this summer. Neary says, for the tourist season, temporary rubber speed bumps will be placed on the last half mile of road leading to the glacier.