The Fact of the Matter Is. . .
From the Files of Gustavus Historical Archives & Antiquities (GHAA)
www.GustavusHistory.org - by Lee & Linda Parker
Q. Is it true that Bartlett Cove was not the original choice for public access to Glacier Bay National Park?
A. Yes! In the beginning, not only was Bartlett Cove not conceived to be what it is today, it was not even to be part of the Monument at all. In fact, had original plans remained, the Bartlett Cove area would even now be part of Gustavus lands—with all the advantages a protected harbor and docking facilities would have brought to a small community. And down through the years, our homesteading families never quite forgot what they believed to be true—that Bartlett Cove should have been outside the park boundaries (as originally drawn on the maps), and consequently available for local use. Ah, but that is a story for another day…
So, where were GBNP headquarters to be located? Where were visitors to be lodged? Well, not so very far away and in a spectacular location—the historic region of Sandy Cove. In Frank Been’s 1939 Preliminary Report Inspection Of Glacier Bay National Monument (after the controversial boundary extension south of the Beartrack River), he details his observations and supportive arguments for the Sandy Cove site. As concerning the already settled areas of the Gustavus flats, he describes the situation as being “the most serious problem for solution”. In fact, Mr. Been states that “it was learned at the General Land Office in Anchorage that that office did not know Gustavus was within the extended boundaries of the monument”. Consequently it was determined that “no more patents would be allowed until decision is made as to future homesteading on Point Gustavus”. In spite of the fact that Government officials in Juneau “felt no harm would come by excluding the area (of Gustavus) from the boundary extension”, and many of our hard-working pioneers had already secured their patents, a careful read of the report confirms that Monument officials were suggesting otherwise. It was believed that if further homesteading was halted, and as our homesteaders died or sold out, “in the long run acquisition of the (Gustavus) land by the Park Service will simplify administration”. However, in the 1939 report it was noted that 2 homesteading families just might be the fly in the ointment (my description) of these plans to acquire the Gustavus lands—the Parkers and the Chases. Considering that both families (and Gustavus) remain today, one would have to conclude that the pesky flies were not so easily swatted away. But again, I digress…
According to the report, a Sandy Cove tourist center “far exceeded” that of any other cove in Glacier Bay for its advantages. It was seen as the logical excursion point for the 4 steamship companies servicing Alaska. Sheltered from prevailing winds, and adjacent to the 2 principal arms—Reid and Muir Inlets, tourists could enjoy unparalleled views with clean water supply streams nearby. The sloping location and beautiful beaches were deemed perfect for a future hotel and small cabin settings—all within 20 miles of steamer lanes. Talk of a possible “floating hotel” was bantered around. Tourists would be dropped off for a minimum 2-day stay then picked up by the next ship to arrive—sort of a revolving door on the sea. Smaller boats would facilitate excursions throughout Glacier Bay. Harbor space and docking facilities would be provided for privately owned craft and public use. Visiting the Monument by air should be deemed acceptable considering the common need for such transportation in Alaska—and Park officials (it was suggested) should get used to the idea despite it being restricted elsewhere.
Mountain goats, brown bear, sea birds, seals, whales, and gigantic icebergs plugging the waterways would be among the natural attractions. Trail construction was proposed on Russell Island, from Sandy Cove to the top of Wright Mountain, and to access forestlands with a rock observation point near the foot of Muir Glacier. The spectacular sight of Mount Fairweather (on a clear day) was described “in unobstructed glory—the grand outlook alone that should clinch the selection of Sandy Cove for tourist accommodations”.
An existing Sandy Cove gold mine would appeal to visitors and offer a chance to mine for souvenirs—even if iron pyrite alone was found in the quartz. Experiencing even “the sensation of finding rich gold bearing ore” was seen as an important contribution to the public in forming a “memorable incident” during their visit to Glacier Bay.
All of which begs the question from beginning to end…what on earth happened?