The 4,000-acre wildlife refuge provides protected habitat for terrestrial and aquatic life
Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge is where land and and sea meet and intermingle in saltwater wetlands. The refuge consists of 4,000 acres stretching 9 miles along the shores of Gastineau Channel between downtown Juneau and its airport, and provides a vital feeding and resting area for both resident birds and migrants traveling to and from their Arctic breeding grounds.
During the 1960s, local citizens observed accelerated environmental change in this important habitat that threatened native plant and wildlife. The solution proposed was the creation of a refuge to protect the wildlife and recreational values of the wetlands. The urgency to conserve the wetlands grew with construction of the Egan Expressway in the early 1970s. After more than a decade of citizen involvement, the Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge was established in 1976.
The refuge is comprised of a series of estuaries created by the numerous streams originating in the surrounding mountains. The fresh water streams flow into the marine waters of Gastineau Channel, blending to form a rich environment for terrestrial and aquatic plant life and prime habitat for both resident birds and migratory fowl traveling to and from breeding grounds farther north. Though few species nest on the refuge, the area is full of activity in April and May and again in late August through September.
With seventeen freshwater streams flowing into Mendenhall Wetlands, it is also a prime spawning area for salmon, trout and a number of other fish. The refuge also provides habitat for Sitka blacktailed deer, black bear, muskrats, river otter, mink, snowshoe hares and porcupines to name a few. Off shore, harbor seals, northern sea lions and humpback whales are found within the boundaries of the refuge.
The refuge offers year-round recreation. Waterfowl hunting, hiking, wildlife viewing and photography, boating, and fishing are the most popular activities. Coho salmon is the most common catch by anglers fishing the refuge streams followed by cutthroat trout, sockeye salmon, and Dolly Varden. Waterfowl hunters bag more than 3,000 ducks annually in Mendenhall Wetlands.