How tourists could see the Mendenhall Glacier after it retreats

The Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center was built in 1962. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

The Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center is preparing for a future that includes more tourists and a melting attraction.

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On Thursday, more than 50 people attended an open house to catch a glimpse of the new concepts. That includes expanding some of the national forest trails and creating a shuttle system to reduce traffic.

But some of the biggest proposed changes could help people get closer to the retreating ice.

John Neary, the visitor center’s director, says his agency is trying to adapt.

“The glacier we know is going to disappear within that 20 years time frame. We’re pretty sure of that,” Neary said. “So given that, and given that most people are coming here to see the glacier, we’re going to chase the glacier up the valley.”

Neary says small commercial boats — possibly electric — could be the solution to getting up close. The boats could take you to some kind of mobile visitor center, near the old ice caves, which would move with the glacier over time.

Docks would be built along Mendenhall Lake.

The ideas were collected after nearly two years of meetings with locals, facilitated by Corvus Design.

First, the plans have go through a federal environmental study. But the U.S. Forest Service hopes to announce which projects to take on by December of this year.

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