Bartlett Cove, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

Bartlett Cove, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

by | Apr 29, 2022

Bartlett Cove is an embayment, and estuary of the Bartlett River, that extends northeast for 2 miles (3.2 km) from the eastern shore of Glacier Bay and is the location of a small resort community and administrative headquarters for Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, about 155 miles (250 km) southeast of Yakutat and 6 miles (10 km) northwest of Gustavus, Alaska. Bartlett Cove is formed by the southern shore of Lester Island to the north and west and the mainland to the south and east. Lester Island was named by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey for Rear Admiral Lester A. Beardslee who commanded the USS Jamestown during the U.S. Navy administration of the Department of Alaska, and surveyed this portion of the Alaskan coast from 1879 to 1880. In the early 1880s, cruising to Alaska became popular among vacationers and gold miners, and the steamship Idaho was operated by the Pacific Coast Steamship Company to sail from Port Townsend to Juneau, Sitka, and Wrangell with a stop in Glacier Bay. Bartlett Cove was reputedly named by the captain of the steamship Idaho, who was either James Carroll or W.E George, probably for Charles C. Bartlett who was a wealthy business owner in Port Townsend, Washington, and purchased property on the bay in 1884. The mainland coast forming the southern shore of Bartlett Cove is a glacier outwash plain that provided habitable land for a prehistorical Tlingit village and early Euro-American settlers. An outwash plain is formed by glacial sediments deposited by meltwater at the terminus of a glacier. Glaciers contain large amounts of sediment eroded from the underlying bedrock. Meltwater forming rivers at the terminus of a glacier transports these sediments downstream with larger boulders being deposited near the terminal moraine and smaller particles traveling further before being deposited over an outwash plain. An outwash plain might contain surficial braided stream complexes that rework the original deposits. They may also contain kettle lakes that form where buried blocks of ice melt leaving a depression filled with water.

Bartlett Cove is an area rich in Tlingit place names and oral history. It lies within the Wooshkeetaan clan territory and Huna Tlingit oral history tells of a large village before the Little Ice Age named L’awshaa Shakee Aan or ‘town on top of the sand dunes’ with many houses built atop a glacial moraine. Sometime after the ice retreated from Glacier Bay in the early 1800s, Bartlett Cove was reoccupied with a second village named Gatheeni. In 1883, the first salmon saltery was located on Lester Island on the north shore of Bartlett Cove and the village of Gatheeni likely provided the workforce. In 1888, the Bartlett Bay Packing Company began operating a cannery and in 1889 produced 4,300 cases of sockeye salmon, with 48 one-pound cans per case. In 1890, William, Brown & Company of San Francisco built another cannery at this location. The new company produced 12,000 cases in 1890 and 7,600 cases in 1891, but a build-up of icebergs forced its closure. In 1892, the Alaska Packing Association acquired the cannery, later to become the Alaska Packers Association in 1893, and in 1894 they dismantled and shipped the canning equipment to another facility near Haines. The cannery buildings burned down sometime later and the facility was sold to Peter Buschmann of Petersburg in 1896 or 1897 who established a saltery. A severe earthquake in 1899 caused tidewater glaciers to calve an enormous number of icebergs that drifted south to the mouth of Glacier Bay and Icy Strait. The vessel White Wing, which served the saltery at Bartlett Cove, was unable to get through the ice for two weeks, while larger steamers engaged in the tourist business were prevented from entering Glacier Bay for many years afterward. Despite the new navigational obstruction posed by the icebergs, salting operations continued at Bartlett Cove in 1900. The Buschmann facility produced some 530 barrels of salted sockeye salmon and another 120 barrels of coho salmon, with about 60 fish per barrel. In the winter of 1900-1901, the Pacific Packing and Navigation Company bought the saltery, but the new owner idled the facility and the company went bankrupt in 1903. Later, the Northwestern Fisheries Company of Seattle acquired the facility and apparently held the property until the buildings collapsed.

Glacier Bay National Monument was established in 1925, but no personnel were assigned to the monument until 1949 when a seasonal ranger was stationed at Bartlett Cove. In 1953, the national monument was managed from Bartlett Cove and an administrative office near Juneau. Starting in 1957, the facilities at Bartlett Cove were expanded with employee housing and maintenance facilities as part of the Mission 66 program that celebrated the 50th anniversary of the National Park Service. The Glacier Bay Lodge was built to accommodate guests in 1966 and beginning in 1969, cruise ships became regular seasonal visitors to Bartlett Cove. In 1971, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act set aside 80,000,000 acres (32,000,000 ha) of Alaskan public lands as eligible for inclusion in the national park system. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter used his authority under the Antiquities Act to proclaim fifteen National Park units in Alaska. In 1980, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act was signed into law establishing Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve with 3.2 million acres (1.3 million ha) including the original national monument. The chief distinction between national park and national preserve lands is that sport hunting is permitted in accordance with Alaskan game regulations in the preserve but prohibited in the park. In 1992, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve was added to the transborder UNESCO World Heritage Site with 25 million acres (10 million ha) that included Kluane National Park, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, and the Tatshenshini-Alsek National Park, to create one of the world’s largest international protected areas. As a national park experience, Glacier Bay delivers powerful natural and cultural experiences every day, while annually hosting about 560,000 visitors. The majority of these park visitors are cruise ship passengers aboard vessels that do not enter Bartlett Cove and who never set foot on land in the park. The Glacier Bay front-country encompasses 7,120 acres (2,881 ha) centered around Bartlett Cove, the only developed area where visitor services are available. Front-country visitors typically arrive at the Bartlett Cove public dock or by paved road from the nearby gateway community of Gustavus. The Gustavus airport supports regular small plane and seasonal jet service. The Alaska Marine Highway dock provides year-round passenger and vehicle ferry service. Read more here and here. Explore more of Bartlett Cove here:

About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2021 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

Credit: Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading). Click here for more information about the #warmingstripes.

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