Mendenhall Glacier fees to go up in 2016

The Steep Creek Trail with its platforms where visitors can view salmon and bears is one of the areas the U.S. Forest Service will start charging people to use starting next summer. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)
Visitors at the Mendenhall Glacier can watch the sockeye make their way upstream at the viewing platforms along Steep Creek.

Starting next summer, the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center in Juneau will increase its entry fee and start charging for use of nearby trails and amenities.

The U.S. Forest Service announced the change today after taking public comments on the proposal this winter.

Visitor center director John Neary says it’ll be the first increase since they first started charging fees 16 years ago. Back then, the center got about 200,000 visitors annually. This year, he says they expect to top 500,000.

“That’s really what it comes down to,” Neary says. “We don’t have an increasing budget scenario, yet we do have very much an increasing number of people who want to see the Mendenhall Glacier and the whole recreation area use has increased dramatically.”

The increase takes effect May 1, 2016. Fees are only charged during tourist season, May through September. For the rest of the year the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center and nearby facilities are free.

The fee to get into the center will go from $3 to $5 a day for people age 16 and older. That $5 also will cover the cost of using the pavilion between the parking lot and Mendenhall Lake, the Photo Point Trail, the Steep Creek trail, bus shelters, and bathrooms near the visitor center. Currently those facilities are free year-round.

Neary says the increase will be used to improve services for visitors. He says traffic congestion is a big issue both in the bus parking area and on trails near the visitor center.

“Which is great,” says Neary. “We really want to connect people to their national forests, right? But there’s lots of costs associated with the platforms themselves, the maintenance of our trails, the staffing to ensure good safety.”

The cost of a season pass also will go up next year, from $10 to $15. Neary recommends frequent visitors take advantage of the passes, as well as various National Park Service and Forest Service programs that cover access to the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center.