First-time Visits to an Alaskan Glacier Just Got More Expensive

A view of the snout of Matanuska Glacier (Source: Frank K./Creative Commons).

The thought of being able to drive right up to a glacier seems strange to most people. However, that is how visitors have accessed Matanuska Glacier in Alaska thanks to a privately-owned road that leads to a parking area near the glacier’s debris-covered section.

For years, visitors with various experiences and interests have been able to enjoy first-hand the majesty of Alaska’s largest glacier, measuring 26 miles in length. Yet, the company that owns the road and runs one of twelve independent enterprises that offer tours of Matanuska recently required that all first-time visitors pay a $100 fee for a guided tour if they want any first-time access to the glacier.

A view of a visitor to Matanuska (Source: Alaska Dispatch News/Twitter).

This new requirement has some locals and tourists up in arms. While the company Matanuska Glacier Park LLC cites safety issues as the main reason for this new requirement, some visitors remain unhappy that the $100 guided tour is now the only option offered to first-timers. After their first visit, guided tours are no longer necessary, and visitors have the option of buying a ticket for $20.

In an interview with GlacierHub, Bill Stevenson, the owner of Matanuska Glacier Park LLC, which operates Matanuska Glacier Adventures, explained that the three-hour guided tour has been $100 for quite some time, despite more recent controversy.

He acknowledged that the new requirement that first-time visitors must pay for the guided tour is one that upsets visitors. However, there are many admission options, he says, including $20 tickets. He maintains that the guided tour with an experienced guide provides a lot of information about a “fascinating part of nature” for first-time visitors. He describes the glacier as “very user-friendly” and the sloping toe of the glacier as very gradual, making it easy to walk around.

However, not all visitors and locals are convinced the steep fee for first-timers is the right course of action. “One of the most special things about living in Alaska is having incredible access to nature,” Alaskan resident Rachel Kaplan explained to GlacierHub. “Putting a high fee on that access limits who can visit.” While she does understand the potential safety concerns, she went on to say that “having a high fee to access the glacier really bothers me.”

Ice climbing on Matanuska Glacier (Source: BD/Twitter).

Stevenson made it clear to GlacierHub that the tour company is not the sole source of income for his company. As the leaseholder for the road, he plays many roles. His company has chosen to share the glacier with 11 other independent tour companies in the area, he noted, providing more than enough business to go around with 20,000 annual visitors to the glacier.

The fees for guided tours at other tour companies in the area also vary for visitors, including those for first-time visitors. While fees at Matanuska Glacier Adventures is on the expensive side, some of the other tour companies are charging higher fees for access.

Climate change further complicates matters. Stevenson told GlacierHub, “No question, we’ve had a decline in the mass of ice.” He estimates that Matanuska loses about 30 feet per year in length. Perhaps, as glacier recession continues, a $100 price tag for admission to one of the world’s disappearing resources will seem less significant. The drive-up location itself may be worth the fee.

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