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Contact: Philip Hooge, 907-697-2230
BARTLETT COVE, AK – Citing employee and community health concerns, as well as significant disruption in travel due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, Superintendent Philip Hooge announced today that Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve will push back the start of its visitor services season from Memorial Day weekend to July 1. Regulatory functions and related activities, such as issuing boater and backcountry permits will begin on May 1 as normal, with employees following procedures to mitigate the risk of viral transmission between parties.
“This rapidly evolving situation and the remote nature of the park with its limited community medical capabilities requires the park to be extraordinarily careful. These steps will allow us to minimize risk to employees, surrounding isolated communities, and potential visitors,” said Hooge.
Memorial Day weekend has traditionally marked the beginning of significant visitor activity in Bartlett Cove, including the opening of Glacier Bay Lodge, the park visitor center, and Hoonah Tribal House, as well as the start of dayboat trips into the bay, and ranger and partner interpretive programs in Bartlett Cove. Cruise ships and tour vessels often ply waters of the bay even earlier, some arriving in late April.
“This year is different,” said Hooge. In past months spread of the virus has caused disruptions in travel around the world, including closure of the United States-Canada border to non-essential travel and closure of Canadian ports to cruise ships larger than 500 passengers until July 1. Most cruise ship companies that regularly visit Glacier Bay in the summer have pulled their ships from operations until mid-May. Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have issued guidelines designed to curb virus transmission in the coming weeks. And the State of Alaska recently issued guidelines urging those traveling to the state to avoid contact with others for 14 days.
“It is increasingly clear that park visitation will be extremely low at this time, which allows park staff time to prepare and put in place procedures to mitigate risk of viral transmission between parties,” said Hooge. “Some park functions and visitor services we have offered in the past might not be doable at this time.”
Precautions the park will embrace for the foreseeable future including requiring all staff traveling to the park from outside the state to quarantine for two weeks before entering park facilities or interacting with the community. Staff members are also practicing social distancing, employing more stringent cleaning practices, and teleworking as practicable.
“These measures are a valuable investment in employee and community health,” said Hooge.
The park is required by law and regulation to manage boater traffic and backcountry use during the summer season. From May 1 through September 30, all backcountry users must receive an orientation and permit prior to their overnight trip in the park. The park also regulates boating in the park between June 1 and August 31. Per usual, park staff will process advanced notice permits and take calls starting April 1. The Visitor Information Station, located near the dock in Bartlett Cove, will open May 1 to issue boater and camper permits, and to provide orientations. However, park staff will follow new procedures informed by CDC guidelines to minimize contact between and among rangers, visitors, different visitor groups, and the isolated local community.
Because of the shortened season, cancellations, and lack of new bookings the Glacier Bay Lodge is not likely to open this season. “The park and concessioner will use this unfortunate circumstance to invest in repairs to the facility to increase its economic viability in the future,” said Hooge.
As the national and international response to the pandemic is changing daily, Hooge said it is very possible park operations may contract further in the coming days. “We will seek to be nimble and responsive as required to ensure the safety of employees, local communities, and visitors,” said Hooge.
Last updated: March 24, 2020