BLM considers Castner Glacier recreation management area
Agency studying plan to manage recreation uses in response to ‘a lot of feedback’ from public about overuse
The federal Bureau of Land Management is studying a proposal to create a recreation management area around the Castner Glacier, in the eastern Alaska Range near Black Rapids. The BLM proposed the plan largely to deal with the increasing number of visitors who come to see the glacier’s ice cave.
For years, the Castner Glacier’s glistening blue-tinted ice cave attracted sight-seers who learned about it mainly by word-of-mouth. But word has spread far and wide, causing concern that its growing popularity is degrading the natural wonder.
“Frankly, we’ve received a lot of feedback in the last several years,” says BLM spokesperson Scott Claggett. Much of that relates to the negative impacts of all those visitors on the ice cave and the trailthat leads to it, he said, including “concerns of overcrowding, litter, large commercial groups, commercial operators that weren’t necessarily permitted, ice-carving, events taking place in or near the cave that weren’t allowed or unsafe.”
Claggett says BLM staff from the Glennallen office who regularly check on the glacier area have confirmed those problems. He says the agency is proposing rules that would reduce the impacts as part of a Recreation Area Management Plan, or RAMP, that would guide public and commercial uses within a new nearly 4,700-acre Castner Glacier Management Area.
“The proposals in the RAMP center around commercial-use limits – group sizes,” he said. Also, “some prohibitions of activities in the cave, like fireworks, fires, ice-climbing – things of that nature.”
The proposed rules would limit the size of tour groups and some of their activities around the glacier, to preserve the attraction and protect visitors from injuries that can occur when exploring glaciers -- like meltoff flooding that led to the collapse of parts of the ice cave two years ago.
“Recreational users should realize that they are choosing to walk inside of a glacier,” he said, “and there’s an inherent risk in doing that.”
Claggett says the proposed management plan doesn’t envision many other changes to the site or the 1-mile trail that leads to it off the Richardson Highway. He says BLM officials understand most visitors to the area appreciate the backcountry and want to preserve what the agency calls a “primitive recreation opportunity.”
“We’re trying to keep that experience,” he said. “That’s why we’re focused on the primitive and semi-primitive recreation opportunities.”
One change that will be apparent is additional parking areas the state Department of Transportation will develop near the trailhead at milepost 217 Richardson Highway. DOT spokesperson John Perreault says that’ll be done in coordination with BLM as part of a road-improvement project.
“We’re currently looking at two small parking areas near the trailhead to be added when the highway project goes through that part of the Richardson Highway,” he said.
He said DOT is still planning the project, which is scheduled to begin in 2026.
Claggett says BLM is conducting an environmental assessment on the Castner Glacier Recreation Area Management Plan. The assessment will provide analysis of what the agency is proposing, and a range of possible alternatives, to include simply leaving the area as is.
He says the public may offer feedback on the plan online during a public comment period that runs from February 13th to March 14th. They also can comment during a February 14th virtual public meeting that’ll also provide details on the plan. More information is available on the BLM’s Alaska web page.