Glacier Bay National Park preservation and management

Over 3 million acres of pristine lands are managed by the National Park Service, keeping this incredible place intact for future generations.

Ranging from towering mountain ranges and remote icefields to windswept shorelines and narrow fjords, there is a place within Glacier Bay National Park and Reserve that lies further from any man-made road than anywhere else in the lower 48 states. As development creeps relentlessly into our once-wild places, Glacier Bay National Park stands as an iconic wilderness, to be preserved for the enjoyment and enrichment of future generations. For Park managers, the challenge is to fully protect this wilderness, while allowing current visitors to access and appreciate these wildlands.

Glacier Bay National Park has long been recognised as the crown jewel of Alaska’s Inside Passage. However the first protective measures covering the Bay were only implemented in 1925, when President Calvin Coolidge established Glacier Bay as a National Monument, set aside for scientific study. In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt more than doubled the size of the monument and in 1980, President Carter increased the size of the park again, this time much more substantially, to its current size of 3.3 million acres. The new park was renamed Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. Concurrently, it was chosen as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and in 1986, the park was recognised as a World Biosphere Reserve.

Today, 2.7 million acres of the Park have been set aside as designated wilderness, protected under the 1964 Wilderness Act. This act confers the highest level of protection. It requires that the region be maintained as pristine wilderness, with no buildings, development or other permanent footprint of man. Taken together with it's immediate neighbours, Alaska’s Kluane National Park and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, along with British Columbia’s Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park, Glacier Bay National Park now sits at the heart of some 24.3 million acres of internationally protected land. As protected areas go, this is second in size only to Antarctica, but perhaps more importantly, the scope of this region protects the entire glacial-fed ecosystem, from its most remote ice fields to the open ocean.

Within its current boundaries, almost 15% of the current wilderness area comprises marine waters, emphasising the importance of the vital connections that exist between marine and terrestrial environments.
Of course, regulations are required to maintain the park as a pristine wilderness. Only one road of less than 10 miles is located within the park and hiking trails are limited to the area around the visitor centre at the entrance to the bay. All levels of access and use are carefully overseen and permits are required for all activities within the park, from back country camping to large scale research projects.

On the water, recreational and commercial vessel traffic must stay within strict operating limits with regards to speed and pilotage and regulations even extend to kayakers. Just two large cruise ships are permitted to visit the park each day and to maintain the wilderness feel of the park, rangers set a schedule to reduce sightings between ships.

At times, particularly sensitive areas within the park may be closed to all access, to minimise any disturbance to the park’s flora, fauna and geological resources. Extraction of resources such as gulls eggs and fish are limited to subsistence gathering by the native Huna Tlinglit, as the park comprises their ancestral homeland. While these measures may seem stringent, they are justifiable. With these protections in place, the goal of park management is to preserve this pristine region in its natural state, so that nature alone maintains the park and only natural processes control the changes seen in the plants, animals and landforms that comprise this icy wilderness.

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