Castner Glacier, Named After A Long-Suffering Military Explorer, Is Topic Of BLM Input Request

The Bureau of Land Management is seeking input on the management of Castner Glacier, on the northern boundary of the Copper River Valley  FE...

The Bureau of Land Management is seeking input on the management of Castner Glacier, on the northern boundary of the Copper River Valley 

FEBRUARY 5TH, 2024 


BLM seeks input for new Castner Glacier Recreation Area Management Plan
Scoping period February 13 – March 14, virtual public meeting February 14 

GLENNALLEN, Alaska –
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is seeking public input to develop a recreation plan for managing the Castner Glacier area to better serve its estimated 12,000 annual visitors and the growing demand for recreation opportunities there. The scoping period for this project runs from February 13 to March 14 and includes a virtual public meeting on February 14. 

The approximately 4,695-acre Castner Glacier area provides year-round outdoor recreation and glacier viewing opportunities in a natural setting. The area is 48 miles from the nearest town (Delta Junction) and 104 miles from the BLM’s Glennallen Field Office and includes little infrastructure development or basic services. 

The BLM will use input from this scoping period, including input from affected user groups, agencies, Tribal consultations, and members of the public to draft a Castner Glacier Recreation Area Management Plan (RAMP) and Environmental Assessment (EA). This scoping period provides the public the opportunity to submit ideas, comments, and concerns for the BLM to consider when developing this RAMP and EA. The public is encouraged to consider the following questions when commenting: 

What types of recreation activities and opportunities are suitable for Castner Glacier?

To what extent should use permits be modified, enhanced, and/or expanded? What limitations and restrictions, if any, are needed?  

The public can attend the 5:30pm February 14 virtual scoping meeting by pre-registering at the BLM National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Register project webpage. The public may also review all meeting materials and submit comment on the same project webpage by clicking on the green “participate now” link. Comments postmarked by March 14 will also be accepted by postal mail.
Joseph Castner, 20 Years After Surviving Alaska 

COPPER RIVER COUNTRY JOURNAL HISTORICAL REVIEW 

WHO WAS JOSEPH CASTNER, WHERE'S THE GLACIER, & HOW DANGEROUS IS IT? 

BACKGROUND
Castner Glacier is named after Lt. Joseph Castner, who was one of a flock of young American military men and explorers who came to Alaska at the end of the turn of the 19th century.  Although almost every single one of the soldiers went on to an illustrious career in the military — mainly in the Philippines, and some eventually in World War I – their earlier experiences in the Copper Valley were brutally difficult, requiring them to struggle to stay alive against the elements.

The first of these explorers was Lt. Henry T. Allen, who trekked north up the valley in 1885 from what is now the Cordova area, all the way to Batzelnetus, near what is now Slana. It was a rough trip for Lt. Henry Allen; he would never have survived without the considerable help of the Ahtna people, who guided and fed him and his men the entire distance.

There were others. This included Captain Edwin Glenn. The captain's mule train fell into the King River near what is now Sutton. Glenn was so hungry on his trip north that eventually he started eating the mules. He also ate “bread” – which he made, in desperation, from sphagnum moss.

Another explorer, Edward Cashman, came to the valley in the fall of 1899. When his horses began to die that fall due to lack of food, Cashman cut up the horsemeat and began eating it, too. It was so bad by October that when Cashman ran into two feet of heavy snow he frostbit all the toes of his left foot, and the big toe of his right. Then on November 1st, Cashman was almost killed in an ice  jam along a river. He wrote: “Our boat was lifted 8 feet in the air.”

Billy Mitchell, another famous military explorer, almost died after falling into an icy river, when he was barely able to get a fire started.  One of those streams was along what is now the Tok Cutoff.

But the most beleaguered and knowingly sad of the famous Copper Valley military men was Lieutenant Joseph Castner. He was so miserable on his trip through the Copper Valley that he dared to call his official government report: "A Journey of Hardship & Suffering." 



CASTNER GLACIER
The Castner Glacier – named after Joseph Castner – is accessed at Mile 217 on the Richardson Highway, near Trims Highway Maintenance Camp, north of Paxson and south of Delta Junction. 

In the days after the Gold Rush of 1898 – after actual sled trails were put in – the area north of Paxson was considered the worst, weatherwise, on the entire Valdez-to-Fairbanks Trail. 

This was saying something. Thompson Pass, with all its avalanching and snowfall, was also on the same trail. The region north of Paxson was known for its blizzards, high winds, whiteouts, isolation, and extreme cold. Sleds and sledges were constantly going off the trail, tipping over, and getting lost. Many travelers froze to death.

Castner Glacier, which is a few miles in from the Richardson, is  managed by the Bureau of Land Management. There’s a footpath from the road to the Glacier. Trailing guide books say the route into the glacier is “moderately challenging” according to glacier-hiking aficionados on the web.

The glacier has an ice cave at its base. In the summer of 2022, part of the front of the cave collapsed – spectacularly.

People apparently go there summer and winter. In January of 2024, several days ago, on a website called “All Trails” some of the issues involving the glacier during our cold snap were on display. Wrote one modern-day adventurer this winter: 

“Do not attempt Castner Glacier today Jan 29 or for the next few days… Everybody who tried yesterday turned around due to heavy snow and extreme cold/wind chill… the trail is snowed over so if you don’t have snowshoes you will be sinking in deep snow.”

In February, 1996, three skiers died in an avalanche at Castner Glacier. The body of one of the skiers was found when searchers followed a rope over the snow. The skiers were from Fairbanks, and had a reputation for being experienced. They were embedded in a 20-foot pile of hardpack ice and snow.


BLM SEEKS COMMENT ON CASTNER GLACIER

The Bureau of Land Management is asking for input on managing the glacier.

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