USFS Mendenhall Glacier Planning (2016-2018)

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Month: September 2016

Charrette #2 Summary

The second project charrette (workshop) was held the evening of Tuesday, September 13th. The intent of this session was to gain more information from the public and continue the development of an ongoing planning process. The focus of this evening was an exercise that related to hearing and documenting people’s current and future desired connection to the MGRA/MGVC, and discussion of general visions for the MGRA/MGVC.

Part 1: Overview from USFS and Planning Team

James King, USFS Regional Director of Recreation, Lands, Minerals, welcomed the approximate 38 participants and gave an outline of the project. James explained that the MGRA needs to plan for both the short term and the next 50 years while understanding the Mendenhall Glacier is receding. James Neary, USFS Director, Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center gave his insight into the project and reinforced James’ comment that the MGRA must meet the needs of both local residents and those that visit from cruise ships and ensure they both have a positive visitor experience. There was discussion that younger users need to be part of the process and the project needs to understand their needs for the future planning of the MGRA.

Part 2: Participant Introductions and Small Group Exercises

Participants introduced themselves and shared their favorite place or unique feature within the MGRA. Attendees of Charrette 2 were randomly divided into six groups to work collaboratively through a series of exercises that helped further understand how the MGRA is used and to create a general vision for its planning. Each group was asked how they use the MGRA, the experience they would like to have while visiting/using the MGRA and to prioritize the activities and services that the MGRA provides. Each group was tasked with selecting one priority activity and to understand its importance and developing a vision for the MGRA. Each group then created a future headline for the MGRA based on their vision. Finally, each group summarized their key insights they discovered in sharing ideas while running through the exercise within their group.

Summary Boards from Small Group Exercises

Each of the six groups elected a spokesman and presented their small group findings. Each of the six worksheets and the group responses are found below. These will be summarized shortly to aid in reading these.

Group 1: “1 and Fun”

Top activities and services:

  • Hiking
  • Touching the ice
  • Education/teaching

Top priority activity:

  • Tram to top of glacier
  • Why?
    • Reduce noise
    • Touch the glacier
    • Revenue source
  • Why?
    • Trail Connections
    • People dispersal
  • Why?
    • Make people care
  • Why?
    • Education and awareness

Future headline: “20 Million Pies Served”

Key Insights:

  • No fees for locals (for all?) Local vs. tourist
  • Does there have to be a sacrificial area?
  • Where are the boundaries, can we go outside the MGRA?

Group 2: “Sand County Gang”

Top activities and services:

  • Avenues around beaver flooded areas
  • Walking, hiking, biking, skiing
  • Wildlife viewing, plant study

Top priority activity:

  • Trails
  • Why?
    • Enables the experience
  • Why?
    • Access
  • Why?
    • Safety
    • Resource protection and preservation
  • Why?
    • Feelings, regular part of life

Future headline: “Juneau Happiest Lifestyle in Country”

Key Insights:

  • MGRA feeds my soul
  • Partnerships enable that to happen
  • Locals benefit from tourists

Group 3: “The Locals”

Top activities and services:

  • Walk/hike
  • Ski
  • Get dogs out

Top priority activity:

  • Hike/walk, explore by foot
  • Why?
    • Positive state of mind
  • Why?
    • Gives feeling and activities earlier (hiking, walking, dogs)
  • Why?
    • It’s why we’re here
  • Why?
    • Home

Future headline: “Mental Health Trust Closes”

Key Insights:

  • Many similarities, we love it!
  • Do your own thing, variety of landscape light
  • Can’t avoid crowds, lake edge bright

Group 4: “The Wolves”

Top activities and services:

  • Glacier viewing
  • Biking, skiing, canoeing, kayaking, paddle boarding
  • Escape the mass of tourists

Top priority activity:

  • Hiking/walking
  • Why?
    • Escape from mass of tourists
  • Why?
    • Mental balance
  • Why?
    • Need for good health
  • Why?
    • Healthy people = Healthy community

Future headline: “Juneau Declared Healthiest Community in the World”

Key Insights:

  • Vision will require community’s’ whole-hearted buy-in
  • Outdoor appreciation begins with family
  • Group can set personal stuff aside for good of the group

Group 5: “Glacial Erratics”

Top activities and services:

  • Nature viewing (wildlife, aurora, etc)
  • See glacier up close, touch the glacier
  • Embrace the natural occurrences (wildlife, vegetation, geology)

Top priority activity:

  • Nature
  • Why?
    • It is the reason to be there
  • Why?
    • To feel
  • Why?
    • Health
  • Why?
    • To enjoy life

Future headline: “Peace and Quiet Reign at MGRA”

Key Insights:

  • Nature is the key that it all comes back to
  • Quiet and nature go hand in hand
  • Industrial tourism conflicts with nature

Group 6: “The Ice Worms”

Top activities and services:

  • Access to the glacier
  • Canoe/kayak
  • Ski/hike

Top priority activity:

  • Glacier uses
  • Why?
    • Unique
    • Formed an all-ages playground
    • Research and education
  • Why?
    • Inspiration, peace, perspective
    • Help inform public
  • Why?
    • Simplify
    • Interconnectedness
  • Why?
    • Uniqueness
    • Why we are here, why we are human

Future headline: “New Visitor Center on the West Glacier Rock Outcrop Now Serving Pie”

Key Insights:

  • The glacier is unique
  • Concern over disappearing glacier
  • Glacier great opportunity to teach all generations about climate change (and that younger generation should be engaged with planning)

You Can Still Participate!

Your participation is still valuable to us. If you were not able to attend the Charrette, please follow this link to give us your input. Charrette #2

Thank You!

Initial Stakeholder Session

The morning of Tuesday, September 13th the planning team and USFS had an initial session with a few companies/groups/organizations that are active within the MGRA/MGVC. The intent of these sessions was to learn how groups are using the areas, start planning conversations, and to educate the planning team based on how the MGRA/MGVC relates to their missions.

Part 1: USFS Overview

James King, USFS Regional Director of Recreation, Lands, Minerals, welcomed everyone and gave an outline of the project and a quick overview of his vision for the MGRA. The MGRA needs to plan for both the short term and the next 50 years while understanding the Mendenhall Glacier is receding. His conversation focused on resolving issues at the MGVC while meeting the needs of the locals who also use the MGRA. James Neary, USFS Director, Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center gave his insight into the project, its opportunities, challenges, and success stories. John discussed how people use the MGRA and new projects and improvements planned for the MGRA and MGVC. He echoed James’ comment that the MGRA is used by a wide variety of users and we must ensure that they have the best possible experience while visiting whether they be off a cruise ship for a short period of time or someone who hikes the Dredge Lakes Unit everyday.

Part 2: Presentations

Juneau Tourism Trends

Part 3: Small Group Facilitated Sessions

The twenty-five participants were broken into small groups to discuss current MGRA management, use, successes and critical issues and related them back to their company, organization or agency’s mission. The small group facilitated sessions were broken into the following:

  • Tourism and economics, recreation and special use permits
  • Biophysical, climate change and interpretation
  • Built environment, transportation and sustainability

Each group went though the same exercise that involved both spatial discussion on MGRA maps and sharing ideas with the group. A summary of each small group facilitated session is below.

Part 4: Small Groups Report Back

Each group then elected a spokesperson to summarize the small discussion and present results to the entire session. Summaries of each of the groups are presented below.

Recreation and Tourism Group:

What does the MGRA do to strengthen the mission of your organization?

  • Ice and ice views
  • Outstanding setting for making memories
  • Creating great memories for our guests
  • Ice, lake, river
  • Commercial activity

What does the MGRA do that negatively impacts your mission? (Weakness)

  • Limited access and capacity
  • Limited infrastructure limits commercial activity
  • Lack of bike riding trails
  • Configuration of roads and parking

What new things could happen/be at the MGRA that could support your mission?

  • More capacity
  • Use days – flexible/adjustable
  • Electric boat tours (climate change statement)
  • More bike riding trails available
  • Spread out visitors to lake and hillsides with electric boat/tramway
  • Capitalize on historic aspects/assets

What at the MGRA prevents you from fulfilling your mission?

  • Glacial retreat
  • Terrorist attacks
  • Lack of youth engagement in planning
  • Global warming

Biophysical, Climate Change, and Interpretation Group:

What does the MGRA do to strengthen the mission of your organization?

  • Education of public
  • People and wildlife management at Steep Creek
  • Outstanding natural resources
  • Opportunity to experience nature up close

What does the MGRA do that negatively impacts your mission? (Weakness)

  • People and wildlife management
  • Visitor basic needs
  • Opportunity to experience nature up close
  • Visitor congestion
  • Demand that is hard to fulfill

What new things could happen/be at the MGRA that could support your mission?

  • Expanding destinations
  • Improve transportation (vehicle and people)
  • People and wildlife management
  • Solutions that solve multiple challenges/opportunities

What at the MGRA prevents you from fulfilling your mission?

  • Funding
  • Lack of appropriate infrastructure
  • Disappearing ice
  • Wildlife habituation
  • Challenges of urban/wild interface
  • Different missions for partners

Built Environment, Transportation, and Sustainability Group:

What does the MGRA do to strengthen the mission of your organization?

  • Economic driver for community
  • Ice viewing
  • Great access
  • Wide variety of uses and opportunities
  • Good trail building substrate
  • Diverse trail opportunities

What does the MGRA do that negatively impacts your mission? (Weakness)

  • Flooding condition in Dredge Lakes Unit and on lake surface
  • Transit inefficiency
  • Manage buses
  • Initial visitor experience at the visitor center
  • Managing surges of visitors
  • Planning for growth and access
  • Actual connection point to community
  • Toilet capacity

What new things could happen/be at the MGRA that could support your mission?

  • More/better celebrated access points to community
  • New accesses – stages (5 minute photo stop, future visitor center site)
  • West side access – views and caves, etc.
  • Improved trail to spectacular glacial view
  • 2nd or 3rd visitor center
  • Stream restoration for salmon and bears
  • Improved sustainable transit
  • Partnerships between USFS and visitor industry
  • “Touch” the glacier
  • Keeping some places quiet
  • Connect loop trails in Dredge Lakes area

What at the MGRA prevents you from fulfilling your mission?

  • Congestion = poor visitor experience
  • Access/bottleneck
  • Not enough money
  • Funding
  • Poor flow of vehicles and people
  • Frequent glacier outbursts/floods and beaver dam floods
  • Uncertainty regarding glacial retreat and visitor trends
  • Federal processes and funding processes to make improvements are slow
  • Ability to keep up with visitor trends

Summary Results of Facilitated Session (Strengths/Weaknesses/Opportunities/Threats)

Input from all three groups were summarized onto a single sheet to consolidate what was heard during the small group report back sessions. Many of the groups identified common issues, opportunities and constraints, while some had unique issues related to their mission. The summary sheet is below.



Planning Team Site Tour

The afternoon of Monday, September 12th the Corvus Design core planning team toured portions of the three units of the MGRA with USFS staff to get an overview of use, issues and opportunities for each unit. The afternoon sessions included visiting key facilities and trails and understanding how the public uses the MGRA.

First Stop: West Glacier Unit

The team met at Skater’s Cabin and discussed the public’s use of Skater’s Cabin, the Mendenhall Campground and the improvements slated for 2017 at the West Glacier Trailhead. Improvements include a separated path that will parallel Skater’s Cabin Road and help reduce pedestrian and vehicular conflicts. The team walked to the new public and commercial lake launch facilities to observe and understand commercial use of the area. Other items of discussion related to the West Glacier Unit included flooding, restrooms, parking, the West Glacier Trail and issues related to accessing the Ice Caves and the various users of the lake and river, both public and commercial.

Second Stop: Dredge Lakes Unit

The team next met at the Back Loop Bridge Trailhead and hiked into the Dredge Lake Unit stopping along Dredge Lake Trail and Dike Trail to observe recent trail damage caused by flooding, as well as talk about beaver issues and the current management efforts being carried out by the Beaver Patrol. Other items of discussion included habitat restoration projects by Trout Unlimited, angling, wildlife viewing and other uses of the Unit including walking, running, mountain biking and dogwalking. Conversations included the positive efforts by dog owners and the Greatful Dogs in keeping the trails clean and the need for additional trash and dog bags. Discussions included trail erosion and the desire to elevate trails to prevent flooding.

Third Stop: Visitor Center Unit

The team’s final stop was the Visitor Center Unit and were joined by additional USFS staff associated with the Unit. At the Steep Creek Trail the USFS staff talked about its history and its success as a fish and bear observation facility. The team observed how people use the facility, how wildlife moves through the area and its interpretive facilities. The team moved to the Pavilion to talk about glacier issues, how people use the pavilion and climate change and impacts to the glacier. USFS staff talked about the interpretive programs offered at the various locations within the Visitor Center Unit. Lastly the team visited the Visitor Center. The team observed how people move through and use the visitor center, its issues and the needs of visitors. The team talked about the history of the visitor center and the historic use of the entire MGRA. A focus of discussion was how visitors use the immediate areas around the visitor center and its trail system.

Some members of the team were treated to an exciting encounter with a resident female bear and her three cubs.

Announcement: Charrette #2

Charrette #2 will be the next opportunity to provide input on the MGRA Conceptual Development Plan. This meeting will focus on identifying opportunities and constraints within the MGRA and will include exercises to help craft a vision for the MGRA. This meeting will be on Tuesday, September 13th at 6:30 pm in the large conference room of the USFS Juneau Ranger District Office at 8510 Mendenhall Loop Road.

Charrette #1 Summary

On the evening of Wednesday, September 7, the first project charrette was hosted at the Juneau Ranger District to introduce the project to the public. The introduction was led by District Ranger Brad Orr and Regional Director of Recreation, Lands and Minerals, James King. They outlined the project and its goals to the approximate 75 people who attended.


Following the introduction the Project Manager for Corvus Design, Christopher Mertl led the public through a series of introductory exercises to understand how the public uses the MGRA. The public began by sharing their favorite memories of MGRA. Some notable highlights include:

  • Skating on Mendenhall Lake under the northern lights
  • Visiting the ice caves
  • Eating pie at Joe and Kitty’s Café in the 1960-70’s
  • Running the many trails
  • Bringing friends and family to the visitor center
  • Skiing across Mendenhall Lake with the wolf, Romeo
  • Touching the glacier for the first time
  • Moto-cross racing
  • Watching bears feeding on salmon along Steep Creek
  • Climbing on the icebergs on Mendenhall Lake
  • Getting proposed to/engaged at the Glacier
  • Attending the Fireside Chats
  • Skiing and hiking in complete solitude
  • Ice climbing and camping on the glacier
  • Flying RC planes
  • Summiting Mount McGinnis
  • Watching the northern lights from Skater’s Cabin
  • Skinny dipping in Mendenhall River
  • Mountain biking the many trails and the frozen lake
  • Taking my children to Nugget Falls for the first time


The second exercise asked the public what activities they participate in at the MGRA. A summary of the activities included:

  • Hiking the trails (most popular response)
  • Dogwalking on the trails (second most popular)
  • Running on the trails (popular response)
  • Mountain biking on the trails (popular response)
  • Quiet walks away from tourists
  • Hiking off trail
  • Hiking to the surrounding peaks
  • Visiting the ice caves
  • Swimming
  • Walking trails at night
  • Mountain biking on the frozen lake
  • Skate skiing
  • Ice skating (popular response)
  • Playing hockey
  • X Country skiing (popular response)
  • Sledding
  • Ice climbing
  • Downhill skiing
  • Shoeshoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Wildlife viewing (popular response)
  • Habitat restoration
  • Watching the salmon
  • Bear viewing (popular response)
  • Watching the glacier
  • Bird watching
  • Beaver Patrol activities
  • Looking at nature (popular response)
  • Photography
  • Painting
  • Watching northern lights
  • Attending Fireside Chats
  • Berry picking
  • Picnicking
  • Camping
  • Flying RC airplanes
  • Exploring history
  • Visiting relic areas
  • Avoiding tourists
  • Improving mental health
  • Kite boarding
  • Wading
  • Guiding visitors
  • Sharing with visiting family and friends (popular response)
  • Going to Visitor Center
  • Sightseeing
  • Learning/interpretation
  • Viewing Nugget Falls
  • Exploring with children
  • Being a tour guide
  • People watching


The third exercise broke the above activities into common groups and included:

  • Hiking, walking, running and dogwalking on trails
  • Winter activities
  • Adventure activities (ice climbing, mountain biking, off trail, kayaking, etc)
  • Wildlife and nature viewing and photography
  • Sharing and exploring with friends and family


Each activity group had facilitated discussion on where these activities are occurring, what’s needed to make them successful and identify potential areas that could support these activities where they are not currently occurring. Participants rotated to the various groups of interest and marked these locations on maps of the MGRA.


The meeting concluded with a question and answer session and outlining next steps for the project.

Project Overview

The Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area (MGRA) Conceptual Development Plan will guide the development of recreation infrastructure in the MGRA accommodating the anticipated visitation needs over the next 20 years with a goal of addressing all anticipated demand, while providing a vision for the next 50 years. The geographic scope of this effort will include all three Units of the MGRA (Visitor Center, Dredge Lakes and West Glacier) a total area of nearly 6,000 acres.

The plan will include innovative planning solutions throughout the MGRA, to accommodate all that want to visit and experience the Mendenhall Glacier and its surrounding landscapes; while balancing the needs of the visitors with the directive for resource protection. The project will be developed within an inclusive process that allows public input and review of the Plan by residents, stakeholders and visitors. The project is expected to take two years to guide future facility developments within the MRGA.

The project is located in Juneau, Alaska and within the Juneau Ranger District of the Tongass National Forest and is under the management of the USDA Forest Service. Corvus Design, Inc., an Alaskan based landscape architectural and planning firm, was selected by the USFS as the contractor for this project.


Welcome to the Project Website

Welcome. The MGRA project blog will be the location to record information we gather during the project and to keep you updated on what is going on. The most recent posting will be on the top of this page with previous postings in chronological order. We will be adding resources and materials, ways for you to provide input and comments, and posting project documentation as it is developed.