- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 9, 2014

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - The U.S. Forest Service is considering raising the fee to enter the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center in Juneau.

The agency also is considering expanding the fee area beyond the visitor center to places popular with tourists, such as the Steep Creek and Photo Point trails, the viewing pavilion and restroom facilities. Those places represent investments in infrastructure, and raising the fee would allow for additional investments to be made, visitor center director John Neary said Tuesday.

The agency cites declining budgets and an effort to improve the visitor experience as reasons for the proposed increase. Visitation has more than doubled since 1999, when the agency began collecting fees.

The proposal would raise the daily fee to enter the center from $3 to $5 for people 16 and older. Season passes would go from $10 to $15, though those purchased after July 15 would be $10. Children under 16 would continue to have free passage.

The Forest Service said in a news release that it plans to continue not charging fees in the winter.

If approved, the fee increase would begin in May 2016. Comments are being taken through January.

The glacier is popular with cruise ship visitors in the summer, and local residents often take advantage of nearby trails.

Neary said the fee would be structured to try to limit the impact on Juneau residents. Those just interested in hiking on, say, the Nugget Falls trail or Trail of Time, which take off from the visitor center, would not have to pay the fee if they didn’t want to, he said. They would, though, if they wanted to use the restroom.

Neary hopes to turn the visitor center - with a bird’s eye view of the glacier - into a climate change education center. There are plans, too, to begin looking at ways to improve transportation in the area.

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