World War II Developments
For the Gustavus homesteaders who spun their radio dials each night in search of the latest news of world events, the aggressions of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan must have seemed far, far away from the enormous stillness that lay at their doorsteps. They had no inkling that U.S. Army defense projects would bring the Second World War to this very place in 1942: that huge B-29 bombers would be roaring in over Pleasant Island and bumping down a new airfield runway only a short distance from their residences, or that loggers would be sizing up nearby stands of Sitka spruce as prospective piling for a huge army storage facility in Excursion Inlet. Nor could they have foreseen the outcome of these developments: a commercial airport located within the national monument and administered by the Civil Aeronautics Administration, and plans swirling about for federally subsidized CAA, tourist, and passenger-layover facilities to be built in Gustavus.
World War II had a profound effect on Alaska, and the activity in the southeast corner of Glacier Bay National Monument formed a microcosm of it. The defense build-up involved not only airfields and storage depots, but army training bases, radio range stations, the Alaska Highway, and other highways. Defense projects brought thousands of construction workers and military personnel to Alaska. The new roads and airfields radically altered the territory's transportation infrastructure. 
Mobilization for war put increased pressure on NPS administrators to protect park lands from economic exploitation. Behind every legitimate request for an emergency war need marched a legion of would-be expropriators. Mining, timber, and grazing interests all sought to capitalize on the war spirit and get access to resources in the name of the war effort. The Park Service tried to be vigilant to such threats while avoiding charges that the agency was not making enough sacrifices.  In Glacier Bay National Monument, officials tried to be especially sensitive to threats to brown bear habitat.
After the war, Alaskans renewed their bid for statehood and redoubled their efforts to develop a sound economic base for Alaska's growing population. The Park Service responded conservatively to these developments. Initial planning documents for Glacier Bay National Monument contemplated the development of administrative and visitor facilities in anticipation of a postwar increase in tourism, but these plans did not inspire strong support from top agency officials and failed to shake loose the necessary appropriations from a tight-fisted Congress in the late 1940s. Not until the Park Service conducted an Alaska Recreation Survey in the early 1950s did it begin to develop a comprehensive view of the Park Service's role in Alaska's future. 
Local residents and NPS officials alike thought that the 1939 boundary extension would mark a new beginning in the administration of Glacier Bay National Monument and provide an impetus for developing the area for tourists. But as World War II loomed larger during 1940-41, the Park Service had to accept sharp budget cuts, and such hopes were soon quashed. Planning efforts in this period, which culminated in the first master plan for Glacier Bay National Monument in 1942, were marked by two contradictory impulses. One was a desire to get something started, if only to blunt charges that the boundary change had been a land grab. The other was to plan more ambitiously for a time in the future when peace and prosperity returned.
Park Service officials who visited Glacier Bay agreed on one thing: this was primarily a marine area, and boats would be vital for both visitor use and administration. When John D. Coffman investigated the area in 1938, he visualized visitor accommodations at some location on the bay, perhaps floating, "such as a seagoing passenger boat retired from active service," and docks erected at various strategic points around the shoreline for viewing wildlife and glaciers. Patrol boats for the superintendent and rangers would also be needed.  One year after Coffman's visit, Frank T. Been, superintendent of Mount McKinley National Park, and Earl Trager, the Park Service's chief naturalist, cruised all over the monument aboard the Forest Service boat Ranger. It was apparent to them that the bay formed a natural marine highway into the heart of the monument. Visitors, they imagined, would arrive at some central location in the lower bay by cruise ship, and from there go on day excursions up the West and East Arms. Boat travel would present visitors with intimate views of whales, hair seals, and seabirds, and take them close to the spectacular tidewater glaciers. 
A patrol boat was the first item requested for Glacier Bay National Monument by Director Cammerer. The director asked for a $25,000 appropriation for a boat at the end of 1939, deferring budget estimates for the construction of administrative buildings or shelter cabins until later. "Between you and me," Cammerer wrote to Governor Gruening, "I have little hope for getting funds" for the boat.  In fact, the Park Service did not procure a boat for the monument until 1946, relying instead on private charter boats or other agencies' boats for making occasional patrols of the bay.  With neither a boat nor a budget, NPS administration of the area remained minimal through the war years, consisting of annual inspection trips by Frank T. Been in 1939-42 and occasional patrols by the custodian of Sitka National Monument, Ben C. Miller, after 1943.
During Been's second trip to Glacier Bay in July and August 1940, the Mount McKinley National Park superintendent refined his ideas about how the monument ought to be developed. He talked with Governor Gruening and Regional Forester Heintzleman in Juneau, who confirmed his feeling that the Park Service had a moral obligation to establish tourist accommodations in the monument as soon as possible. Gruening admonished the Service to forget about Admiralty Island and concentrate on areas it already controlled, like Glacier Bay. Heintzleman told Been that the Park Service's inaction had made things hot for him in Juneau, since he had publicly supported the transfer of Tongass National Forest lands to the monument with the understanding that development would promptly follow. Been thought the Park Service could divert funds from Mount McKinley National Park to begin development in Glacier Bay National Monument. He also mused in his journal that the latter area had "more of the genuinely unusual to offer than Mt. McKinley National Park," and would better meet the expectations of most Alaska visitors. Becoming more and more enthusiastic as he proceeded up the bay, Been wrote:
He thought the tourist should have two or more days to see the glaciers rather than the fleeting views that most received of the Taku or Columbia Glaciers. 
Back at Mount McKinley, Been made a budget estimate for "protection and preliminary administration" of Glacier Bay National Monument for the 1942 fiscal year:
Before submitting it, however, he added a postscript. The ranger position should really be $2,000, because the high cost of living in Alaska demanded it and further, "a man assigned to Glacier Bay as ranger must be more than ordinarily equipped physically and in experience." 
Been had taken ample field notes and photographs while in Glacier Bay, and the monument's first development plan developed in his mind during the long winter months at Mount McKinley. Been's concept was to establish the park's core area as far up the bay as practicable. Sandy Cove, located on the east side of the bay approximately twenty miles north of Point Gustavus, seemed the ideal place for headquarters and a tourist development. Backed by a dark fringe of spruce and hemlock forest and affording a magnificent view across the broad bay to the Fairweather Range, Been thought it was the prettiest place in the monument. Moreover, excursion boats leaving from the cove could make a round trip to most of the tidewater glaciers in one day.
Been's plan for buildings and structures at Sandy Cove looked well beyond the immediate needs of a resident ranger and superintendent. He described a rustic administration building, museum, residences, ranger club (a seven-room log cabin for unmarried rangers), visitor lodge, and cabins. The latter should accommodate eighty or more people. A dock "for use by large steamers to land passengers and freight" was essential. In addition there would be a floating dock for small boats. 
This plan passed from desktop to desktop in Washington, D.C. during the early summer of 1941. The national parks were posting record numbers of visitors that year as people sensed the coming war, but in spite of higher revenues from park entrance fees, the Park Service's piece of the budget pie had already begun to shrink. As President Roosevelt proclaimed the United States to be the "arsenal of democracy," and as Congress pumped millions of dollars into burgeoning defense industries through hundreds of War Department contracts, Park Service director Newton B. Drury braced his agency for deep budget cuts. Congress started trimming the NPS budget early in 1941, then chopped it decisively after Pearl Harbor and the declarations of war on Germany and Japan. Park visitation fell precipitously from 21 million in 1941 to 6 million in 1942, further reducing revenues. No one expected development of new areas to happen in this context. 
Instead, the Park Service emphasized planning for the expected boom in tourism after the war. Been was requested to produce a master plan for Glacier Bay National Monument "even if preliminary."  In fact, the Park Service completed master plans for all 166 units of the national park system by the end of 1942. These were submitted to the National Resources Planning Board as the basis for a six-year advance plan and construction program.
Been's master plan for Glacier Bay National Monument pulled together ideas from his expedition with chief naturalist Trager in 1939, his return trips in 1940 and 1941, and his earlier development plan for Sandy Cove. The master plan assumed that Glacier Bay National Monument would remain essentially roadless, accessible only by boat or seaplane, and it suggested that this was not only a practical necessity, but desirable. Visitors would be able to tour all marine areas, and the Park Service would construct numerous dolphins, providing safe moorages for the mixed traffic of private, charter, rental, and government boats. The master plan's discussion of dolphins revealed the extent to which Been envisioned Glacier Bay National Monument as a place for pleasure boats:
It was probably not a coincidence that Been's idea resonated with Governor Gruening's conception of Glacier Bay National Monument as a "boat area." 
The master plan chastised the Park Service for delaying the development of tourist accommodations, noting that there were "ideal opportunities for comparison of the progressive work of the Forest Service and the dilatory action by the National Park Service." It cautioned that there were residents within the monument--at Gustavus, Dundas Bay, and on some of the islands--whose prejudice against the Park Service would probably linger for the foreseeable future.
The heart of the master plan was its proposal to make Sandy Cove the hub of administration and visitor circulation. Been elaborated on his earlier plan for Sandy Cove, adding information to substantiate his view that most visitors would enter the monument by cruise ship. There were a number of Canadian cruise ship lines that plied Alaska's Inside Passage, carrying some 50,000 passengers past the entrance to Glacier Bay each year, the plan stated. It was eight hours by steamer from Juneau to the mouth of Glacier Bay and another two to Sandy Cove. Once lodging was established in the monument, the Park Service could expect that some cruise ship companies would add Glacier Bay to their itineraries. The growing amount of attention focused on Alaska would probably bring more companies into the cruise ship industry after the war.
With the advantage of hindsight, one could argue that the master plan of 1942 missed the mark. Cruise ship companies did not become a significant factor in Glacier Bay for more than twenty years after World War II; and Bartlett Cove, not Sandy Cove, quickly emerged as the favored site for headquarters and tourist accommodations. Of course, the master plan's prediction that cruise ships would soon bring thousands of visitors into the monument was based on the assumption that a tourist hotel must be built first; without the hotel at Sandy Cove, one could say, all bets were off. The question, then, is why the Park Service nixed the plan to develop that site.
Although the Sandy Cove development plan still had adherents as late as the 1970s, most NPS planners agreed by then that it was neither feasible nor even desirable--the main object in the 1970s was to keep such development on the periphery of the monument and preserve a wilderness core. This way of thinking was not prevalent in the 1940s.  The Park Service's selection of Bartlett Cove for headquarters and tourist accommodations--four miles from the Gustavus Airport and much closer to the entrance to Glacier Bay--had little to do with considerations of wilderness preservation. Rather, the choice of Bartlett Cove rode piggyback on decisions by the U.S. Army to construct two military installations in the monument, one on Excursion Inlet and the other near Point Gustavus. Together, these projects called for a temporary withdrawal of land in the southeast corner of the monument. When this land was returned to the monument in 1945, the newly built airfield near Gustavus would prove decisive in the Park Service's postwar planning efforts.
The war came to Glacier Bay National Monument on August 12, 1942, when a logging crew began sawing down trees on the shore of Excursion Inlet. The timber was to be used for piling in the construction of a huge Army shipping base. Army engineers chose the site from several they investigated along Icy Strait, influenced in part by B.F. Heintzleman's statement that the shoreline was bordered by one of the finest forests for piling in southeast Alaska. This was the area that the regional forester had contested with Coffman and Dixon back in 1938. 
Superintendent Frank T. Been of Mount McKinley National Park first learned about the project from Tongass National Forest officials while he was visiting Juneau. He queried two contractors about the project but learned little from them except that the Army estimated 20,000 to 30,000 pilings were needed and the land might require transfer to the War Department. Been learned the next day from one Colonel Nichols, who had charge of Army Transport Supply in southeast Alaska, that the Excursion Inlet base was to be a very large and important project. Later, an Army major in Anchorage disclosed to Been that the project would run about $15,000,000. 
Been visited Excursion Inlet about two weeks after the cutting began. He found a small logging crew falling trees at the north end of the inlet about a mile from tidewater and well within the monument boundary. The foreman said that the level area extended five miles up the Excursion River and would yield perhaps 10,000 piling; the trees would be hauled to the water by tractors and rafted to the construction site. The foreman and the park superintendent saw the trees in strikingly different ways, the former noting that the trees over piling size should be cut for the local sawmills, and remarking upon "the fine logging opportunity" near Gustavus for additional piling; the latter feeling that the removal of this virgin stand, in which the "tall clean boles reached toward the sky in impressive array [was] a sacrilege for any purpose."  Been swallowed his misgivings, however, and Regional Director Tomlinson, reporting this information to the director, concluded, "Apparently military necessity is so urgent that there is nothing further we can do than have Superintendent Been try to prevent unnecessary damage." 
Lieutenant General John Dewitt, head of the Western Defense Command with headquarters in San Francisco, had ordered construction of the shipping base on July 31, 1942, as part of the Army's logistical preparation for land and air operations in the Aleutian Islands. The Army contracted with the Guy F. Atkinson Company of San Francisco for construction of the facility, which eventually cost $17,300,000. Intended as a transfer point between barge traffic on the Inside Passage and seagoing convoys across the Gulf of Alaska, it consisted of long wharves, warehouses, cold storage buildings, and tent platforms. At one time the Army contemplated connecting the facility by road with the Alaska Highway. Before it was operational, however, the campaign in the Aleutians was over; Japanese forces on the distant islands of Kiska and Attu were defeated. The only use it ever saw was non-military; a number of Hoonah Tlingit families occupied the vacant buildings through the winter of 1944-45 after a fire swept through their village, and some weeks after VE-Day several dozen German POWs were shipped to the site and put to work dismantling the buildings. In March 1945, after two and a half years of secrecy, Army officials unveiled this "white elephant" to reporters. 
Until then the Army left Park Service officials mostly in the dark as well. Regional Director Tomlinson did not know whether the Army would try to retain the facility in the continental defense system after the war. Regardless, he and Director Drury concurred that the land should be withdrawn from the monument and transferred to the War Department to protect the monument's integrity. In 1943, the Department of the Interior negotiated the terms of the land transfer with the Department of War, eventually obtaining Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson's consent to a memorandum of agreement that the interior secretary could terminate the public land order at any time subject to the approval of the President. The agreement also stated that upon termination of the public land order all buildings and structures erected by the War Department would be transferred to Interior or removed, at the option of the interior secretary, and the sites restored as much as possible to their condition prior to the war. 
Park Service efforts to contain the damage were partially successful. Joseph S. Dixon expressed concern that brown bears would be shot by loggers, and urged that timber cutting be restricted as much as possible to protect habitat. When the contractor applied to the superintendent for permission to cut timber around Bartlett Cove, Been sent a map to the Army with a red line penciled along the Salmon River a few miles east of Bartlett Cove, requesting that the proposed military reservation be limited to the area east of the river and explaining that the Park Service desired to preserve Bartlett Cove from defacement. Colonel E.D. Post returned the map with his own blue penciled line describing a larger area including Bartlett Cove, but he allowed that the additional land would be held in reserve.  Fortunately the need for more piling never arose and the timber around Bartlett Cove was spared. Been also requested the logging crew in Excursion Inlet to leave a screen of timber along the water's edge. This was done, and fifteen years later a Park Service report stated: "The logged over area appears as a very noticeable scar from the air, but can hardly be detected from the water surface." 
In October 1942, the Army disclosed to the Park Service that it intended to build an airfield and radio range near Point Gustavus. The site was the largest plain in southeast Alaska, with good landing approaches over low-lying Pleasant Island and Icy Passage and a local weather pattern that veteran flyers called "a hole in the fog" on Alaska's coast. The Army did not get the airfield completed in time for use in the Aleutian campaign, except as a refueling stop for aircraft returning from Adak Island to Seattle after the bombing of Attu and Kiska had ended.  But it did become one of only four airfields in Alaska where the new B-29 bombers could land and take off. 
As the Army withdrew most of its forces from Alaska after the Aleutian campaign, it turned over military airfields like the one on Point Gustavus to the Civil Aeronautics Administration. Although the CAA completed the Gustavus airfield with War Department funds, it did so with an eye to the civilian air navigation pattern that it thought would likely develop after the war. The airfield comprised two paved and lighted runways, 5,000 and 7,500 feet long, capable of serving the largest commercial aircraft then existent. The radio range station provided communications with Juneau. The CAA surveyed Falls Creek, near Gustavus, for a potential hydroelectric development to replace the airfield's several diesel-powered electricity generators. 
It seemed in 1945 like the Gustavus airfield was destined to play a key role in Alaska's new era of commercial air travel. The war had left a string of military airfields around the North Pacific Ocean that now appeared as stepping stones to the Orient for the limited range, propellor-driven airplanes of the era. In the mountainous, often cloud-veiled terrain of southeast Alaska, the Gustavus airfield presented a safer approach than the Juneau airfield forty-five miles to the east, and it was on a more direct route up the coast, with a good weather flight path the length of Glacier Bay. In the months after V-J Day, Pan American Airways, Northwest Airlines, and two smaller companies applied to the CAA for use of the airfield, and Pan Am even announced plans to fly its "super planes" into the Gustavus airfield and provide a shuttle service between Gustavus and Juneau. A 1945 planning study for the monument commented that the airfield's future was assured. Newton B. Drury called it "a first-class airfield" and a "key" in Alaska's air navigation pattern in his annual report for 1948. 
Park Service officials were enthusiastic about the Gustavus airfield even though they opposed airport construction in national parks generally. Outside of Alaska, the Park Service took a strong stand against airports in national parks in the years following World War II. Park Service officials had misgivings about the advent of the airplane tourist, especially when they visualized him in a private airplane similar to the automobile tourist. Airplane noise was their chief concern, but they also wondered whether airplanes would not whisk tourists through the parks at such a speed that they would no longer pay entrance fees, patronize park concessions, or appreciate the scenery fully. Faced with a growing demand to clear landing strips in parks and monuments, the Park Service director announced a wait-and-see policy in 1944, which he reiterated in two news releases and his annual report at the end of 1946. With strong support from the secretary of the interior and the National Parks Association, Drury lobbied for an amendment to the Federal Airport Act of 1946, which would authorize federal grants for new airport construction near national parks, not only in them. This law was amended to the Park Service's liking in 1950.  But the general policy notwithstanding, NPS officials hardly concealed their delight over the new possibilities presented by the Gustavus airfield. It was a welcome answer to the problem of public access to Glacier Bay, since the monument was a full day by boat from Juneau and inaccessible by automobile.
The question arose whether the land around the airfield should be withdrawn from the monument in order to avoid setting a precedent. A joint memorandum dated March 15, 1945, effectively restored the military reservation to the monument and conveyed the Army's special use permit for the airfield, together with some Army buildings, to the CAA. "In line with Service policy," acting regional director Herbert Maier observed, "it may not be considered desirable to have a major commercial airport within the area. If this proves to be the case, we believe the land on which the airport is located might well be withdrawn from the Monument in time." 
But the Park Service decided against the land withdrawal because it found that its own development plans meshed nicely with those of the CAA. The relationship was sealed by an exchange of letters between Secretary of Commerce Henry A. Wallace and Secretary Ickes. Wallace explained the critical need for an overnight hotel near the Gustavus airfield:
Ickes answered Wallace, "I agree with the suggestion...that hotel facilities at Gustavus, Alaska, should be planned to serve the needs of the Gustavus airfield and Glacier Bay National Monument." He then proposed that the NPS and the CAA combine their planning efforts. 
A planning document prepared by the Park Service's landscape architect A.C. Kuehl and sent to Washington, D.C., in early January 1946 served as the basis for discussion between CAA and NPS officials when they met in Associate Director A.E. Demaray's office at the end of that month. Kuehl had been working on a new plan of development for Glacier Bay National Monument for several months; as early as June 1945 he had sketched a map of the Gustavus area with hotel and steamer dock located at Bartlett Cove and a road linking them to the airfield. His idea was to locate headquarters and a main lodge at Bartlett Cove, and a secondary administrative area and small lodge at Sandy Cove. CAA officials agreed easily to the location of the hotel at Bartlett Cove. They indicated that airline passengers who were weathered in would be little inconvenienced by the eight-mile distance to Bartlett Cove, particularly since those passengers bound for Juneau, Sitka, and other southeast Alaska locations via flying boat "no doubt would take off in Bartlett Cove." They persuaded NPS officials to increase the main lodge capacity from 100 to 150, and in other ways boosted the total budget estimate from approximately $1,500,000 to $2,000,000.  Four days later Demaray took this request to the Bureau of the Budget, accompanied by Governor Gruening and three representatives of the CAA. Demaray reported on this hearing to Ickes:
Consequently, the Park Service trimmed its budget estimate to $1,250,000, retaining the 150-capacity hotel in Bartlett Cove and eliminating the Sandy Cove development entirely, and resubmitted it. Though approved by the President, it was struck by a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. 
In his annual report for 1946, Newton B. Drury pointedly extolled the Gustavus airport and elaborated upon the need for lodging to accommodate tourists and airline passengers. This of course contradicted the Park Service's policy against locating airports in parks, which Drury stated boldly elsewhere in the same annual report. To conservationists who carefully perused such documents, Drury's comments on the Gustavus airport were a red flag. The president of the National Parks Association, William P. Wharton, wrote to the secretary of the interior arguing that the monument boundary must be revised to exclude the airfield. Secretary Julius A. Krug's reply, prepared by Park Service staff, was unequivocal in explaining that the Gustavus airfield justified a "deviation from policy." 
There was another reason that the Park Service decided against eliminating the Gustavus airfield site from the monument: it was thought to be important brown bear habitat. This had been a major consideration in J.D. Coffman's recommendation to include the Gustavus forelands in the first place. Park Service biologist Victor H. Cahalane reminded the National Parks Association of this fact in a sharp letter after he had helped prepare a response to Wharton for the interior secretary. To let go of the Gustavus area, Cahalane explained, would wreck the Park Service's ability to limit growth of the so-called agricultural community there. As cattle grazing inevitably increased, the Park Service would probably lose the entire brown bear population east of Glacier Bay. "I consider it much more important to keep control of the entire Gustavus area," he wrote, "and thus save the animal life, than to excise the airport from the Monument." 
Ironically, the biologist's prediction about the future of this community, although exaggerated, proved to be more accurate than Park Service planners' guesses about the future of the airport. The airport never became the transfer point for southeast Alaska that CAA and Park Service officials anticipated it would. At the end of the decade its principal use was for emergency landings. With no regular air service to Gustavus, visitation to Glacier Bay National Monument remained low--around five hundred people annually. But for a few years during and after World War II, the Gustavus airfield assumed a major influence on development plans as planners looked ahead to an expected boom in Alaska tourism.
Last Updated: 24-Sep-2000