Glacier Bay National Park And Preserve

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is located in the Alaska panhandle, west of the city of Juneau. The establishment of the park first began in 1925, when Calvin Coolidge signed the bill that would make the Glacier Bay area a national monument. After an expansion occurred in 1978 by President Jimmy Carter, the park increased in size by 523,000 acres under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). This act helped expand the park again in 1980, while it was in the process of being established as a National Park, to include 57,000 acres of protected preserve. In 1979, the Glacier Bay area became a binational UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park and reserve share 5,130 square miles of land, with 4,164 square miles encompassing an official wilderness area.

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is located in the far northern area of Alaska, along the coastline, and is only fifteen miles from the border of Canada. The park’s tallest peak, Mount Fairweather, reaches 15,300 feet and merges with the Fairweather Range in the south. The western border of the park is natural, occurring along the peninsula that extends from Grand Pacific Glacier near Canada to Icy Strait. The eastern boundary of the park is also natural, occurring along the ridge of another peninsula that holds the Tongass National Forest, where the park’s northwestern border appears.

Glacier Bay National Park holds about 600,000 acres of federally protected water in Alaska. These waters are used to compare other marine ecosystems that are not protected by law. These protected waters include the Alsek River, which serves as a subsidized fishing and hunting area under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), which also protects the ecosystems that depend on the glaciers in the area.

There are fifteen tidewater glaciers in Glacier Bay National Park, which descend from snow-capped mountains into the bay. Muir Glacier was the most vivid glacier in the park, with a calving side that reached a height of 265 feet, but this glacier receded in the 1990’s. There are nine tidewater glaciers in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, of which four are actively calving icebergs into the bay. Glacial retreat has greatly affected the park’s landscape over many years. In 1794, Joseph Whidbey found that Glacier Bay was almost completely covered by one glacier, but when John Muir visited the area in 1879, the glacier was found to have retreated 48 miles into the bay. Despite the shocking rate of retreat of this glacier, many of the glaciers in the park are still intact.

Areas of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve that are located near the Gulf of Alaska have a mild climate with large amounts of rainfall and little snowfall. Upland areas in the park are typically cold and have significant snowfall, while lower areas are known as transitional zones. The park features many habitats including alpine tundras, ice fields, wet tundras, and coastal forests. The park is home to many species of animal including moose, black bears, grizzly bears, dall sheep, mountain goats, sea otters, harbor seals, orcas, minke whales, bald eagles, Canadian lynx, and wolves.

Because visitors cannot travel by road to access Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, air travel is the most popular method of travel. Occasionally, during the summer months, a ferry will take visitors to marina at Bartlett Cove or to a small town known as Gustavus. Cruise ships transport more than 400,000 visitors per year, although the number of ships that can enter the park is limited to a small amount each day. Visitors can also access the park while on six-day kayaking trips. These trips take visitors through Dalton Post in the Yukon Territory to the Dry Bay Ranger Station in the preserve area.

Image Caption: Glacier Bay taken in September 2004. Credit: Quentin Goodman/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)