My Story: Glacier Bay National Park 1997 to Today

June 29, 2017 • Todd Smith

Earlier this month after the United States declared an exit from the Paris Climate Accord, we received a request from Sven Lindblad of Lindblad Expeditions to share our story. “A single event, something you saw or felt, a conversation you had that illustrates the importance of our natural systems, or defines change,” he asked. “I will compile these and find as many ways as I can to share them, to give voice to the voiceless, to flood the political community, not with statistics and science, but with stories from travelers who have seen and experienced things that they have not.”

Having returned from Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park a few weeks prior, I had just the story. Here is my tale:

At the top, a large snowy Alaskan glacier on a sunny day, and at the bottom, and man and boy in a kayak in front of the same glacier, but with much less snow

Twenty years ago, I was working as a naturalist and guide in Glacier Bay National Park. I was lucky enough to marry the girl of my dreams on the bow of a small ship located just off the face of the Riggs Glacier in Glacier Bay’s East Arm. As the captain performed the ceremony I distinctly remember hearing the cries of nesting kittiwakes and the crack, pop and crumble of ice falling from the glacier’s face into the sea.

Twenty years ago I was married in Glacier Bay’s East Arm; this year I returned to find a very different landscape.

This year I returned to Riggs to find a very different landscape. The glacier no longer reaches tidewater and has retreated several hundred yards onto land up the valley. Since my wife was unable to visit with me, I paddled my kayak to the beach where the glacier once stood and searched the shoreline until I found the perfect heart-shaped rock to bring to her as a memento and symbol of my love. Of course, this would not have been possible on the day I was married. On this trip I was fortunate to bring my young son to view the glaciers and bay that are so special to me. With this much change in the past 20 years, I cannot fathom what changes are in store during his lifetime. 

A glacier in Alaska on a sunny day
An Alaskan glacier with snow on it on a cloudy day

For more information on climate change specifically affecting Glacier Bay National Park, view this National Park Service webpage. Share your own story with Lindblad Expeditions by emailing it to [email protected] with MY STORY in the subject line; you can read Sven Lindblad’s full call to action here: My Thoughts on the Paris Climate Accord.

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