Mr. Kizzia was a reporter for The Anchorage Daily News for 25 years. He is the author of several books about Alaska, most recently, the ghost-town history “Cold Mountain Path.”
“Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is one of those Alaska showpieces more often seen by visitors than by the state’s residents. When I finally got there this summer, after more than 40 years living in Alaska, I arrived the way most people do, on board a cruise ship, in the company of a few thousand tourists from around the world.
The remote park’s lofty summits and ice-carved fjords, the humpbacks and orcas and grizzlies lived up to what I’d heard. As passengers spilled onto the upper observation deck, agog, the ship’s theatrical pirouette before a wall of blue glacial ice showed off Romantic nature in all its timeless glory.
Something was amiss, though, at least for me. I was along for the trip as an invited local speaker — Alaska author and freelance wilderness rhapsodist. But during my decades in Alaska, I had seen too many changes, interviewed too many climate scientists, read (well, skimmed) too many studies. I gazed from the railing with a contemporary Alaskan’s gloom, a pilgrim bearing witness to end-times in the temple of the glaciers.
I started asking around to see if anybody else felt this way.
The park rangers told me that glacier tourism was indeed changing. On these cruise ships, the disappearance of coffee to-go cups from the breakfast service is one of the first signs you have sailed into a national park. It’s part of your ship’s concession contract: no latte cups flying into pristine waters. The casino games shut down, and uniformed rangers are brought aboard to mingle and give talks about the environment.”