August 11, 1996 in Nation/World

It’s Park Vs. Parking Beset By Visitors, Glacier Park Officials Weigh Preservation Against Accessibility

Eric Torbenson Staff writer
 
Tags:url

Tourists couldn’t stop at Logan Pass this summer. Or at least they shouldn’t have.

Glacier National Park crews repaved the parking lots at the popular interpretive center that caps a twisting drive up the backbone of the park.

No matter. Motorists parked right in the middle of the congested two-lane Going-to-the-Sun Road and paid the $50 fine without a second thought, said Steve Frye, chief ranger at the park.

All for the chance to romp on the glacial fingers that reach down from 10,000-foot summits.

“There’s no stopping them,” Frye said. “They drove all this way and they’re going to get out and see the glaciers.”

The parking lot could be open as early as Tuesday, but Glacier’s 2-million-plus visitors continue to test park resources in other ways. Each year, 3 percent to 4 percent more visitors line up at the entrances, and the National Parks Service must find ways to control them.

Starting Monday, the parks service will hold public meetings on three different plans for future use. In some cases, the plans would shut off sizable areas of Glacier to motor homes, campers, and all but the hardiest trekkers.

“This is not the final plan,” said Helen Starr, a landscape architect shaping Glacier’s master plan. “This is just our first cut. We want to see what parts of the alternatives people like and don’t like.”

Glacier spends about $750,000 annually, Frye said, and about 10 percent of that gets swallowed up for road maintenance. In recent years, much of the rest has been eaten up by security and maintenance rather than by interpretive staff and displays, the hands-on aspects that the public clamors for when visiting.

The challenge for Glacier’s rangers is clear: handle more people with fewer resources.

Ideas being bounced around at the hearings include:

Busing people up the Going-to-The-Sun Road, keeping private autos off the road with the hope of keeping costly maintenance down.

Integrating big chunks of the park with surrounding wilderness areas, limiting the use of much of the upper and lower park for people.

Alternatively, opening closed campgrounds to provide more access for campers and day-trippers.

Most park visitors at the Apgar area - just inside the park border - would prefer to have more of the scenic splendor accessible.

“I think the park was built for people,” said Cliff Lawrence of Fort Shaw, Mont. “It’s our park. We ought to be able to come here and use it.”

Lawrence, who has come to Glacier nearly every year since 1965, would like to see more ways for people to enjoy different areas. Closing campgrounds and removing roads, as some alternatives in the management outline would do, goes against the very reason parks were created, he said.

A volunteer park ranger at the Apgar Visitor Center, who did not wish to give her name, would rather see more of the park off-limits. “I wish they’d just take the Going-to-the-Sun Road out,” she said. “There’s just too many people.”

Preserving the pristine nature of the nation’s parks is Paul Pritchard’s business. As president of the National Parks and Conservation Association in Washington, D.C., he wants people to come to Glacier to take in the scenery, but leave behind what he calls “thrill-seeking” activities.

Offenses include water-skiing, mountain biking and a host of other pastimes that Pritchard believes “people can just as well do outside the park.

“Anything that damages the park just takes away from future generations,” Pritchard said. “The loss of silence and solitude in parks has become a very important problem.”

Buzzing helicopters provide tours of the park’s peaks, which irritates purists. Planes and choppers must maintain a minimum 2,000-foot elevation over the ground, but their presence diminishes the park experience, he said.

“In 1987, we had four parks with these kinds of tours,” he said. “Today, we have 144.”

Visitors could gain a similar view by riding a chairlift to the top of Big Mountain ski resort, which lies just outside Glacier, Pritchard said.

Providing visitor camping and services outside the park borders would accommodate more tourists while keeping the park pristine, Pritchard said, and the park service alternatives have that in mind.

Ringing Glacier’s southern borders are a variety of campgrounds, chalets and hotels. Park management would like to see growth occur there rather than inside the park.

Tourism isn’t the only thing that worries Pritchard. Oil and gas exploration efforts have increased all along the Rocky Mountains’ eastern side, he said, including plans to explore in the Badger Two-Medicine area that is proposed as wilderness.

“There’s plenty of clearcutting right up to the park’s borders as well,” Pritchard said, which damages habitat for grizzly bears and other wildlife. “That’s a threat to park values too.”

The 11 public meetings will cull comments that Starr and the parks staff will consider in their planning. That preferred set of decisions will be presented to the public again next winter.

If all goes well, Glacier will have a master plan - which looks ahead for about 20 years - by fall 1997.

Sitting outside a restaurant at Apgar, Cliff Lawrence understands that more visitors mean more hassles for the park.

“But you can’t deprive people of the experience they have here,” he said. “It’s here for us.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo Map of area around Glacier National Park

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: THE THREE PROPOSALS Glacier National Park seeks comment on three different plans for managing growth. Here are the alternatives:

Plan 1 would provide more opportunities for people to get inside the park. It would: Expand the visitor season. Encourage development outside the park. Provide a transit system for the Going-to-the-Sun Road, but allow private cars to drive the length of the road without parking. Expand the Apgar campground, and build a new visitor center there.

Plan 2 would try to make connections between Glacier and the surrounding wilderness areas. It would: Preserve blocks of Glacier as undeveloped land. Push access to the park to the outside edges, halting growth in the southern part of the park. Remove Camas Road, which runs along the park’s western side. Remove lodging and services in different areas around the park.

Plan 3 would emphasize new cooperation with communities outside the park to handle visitors. It would: Create a transit-only system on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Reopen Highway 49 to the east of the park to allow for more access around Glacier. Reopen and expand several campgrounds. Build a boat launch on St. Mary’s Lake on Glacier’s eastern side.

Where to comment Of the 11 public meetings to discuss Glacier’s future, here are the closest ones to the Inland Northwest: Pablo, Mont., 6:30 p.m., Aug. 20, Main Tribal Complex Building/Tribal Council Chambers and BIA East. Missoula, 6:30 p.m., Aug. 20, Holiday Inn Parkside, Ballroom B. West Glacier, Mont., 6:30 p.m., Aug. 19, Community Building. Or write to: Glacier National Park, GMP/EIS Project, West Glacier, Mont. 59936-0128. Find more information on-line at: http://www.nps.gov/glac

This sidebar appeared with the story: THE THREE PROPOSALS Glacier National Park seeks comment on three different plans for managing growth. Here are the alternatives:

Plan 1 would provide more opportunities for people to get inside the park. It would: Expand the visitor season. Encourage development outside the park. Provide a transit system for the Going-to-the-Sun Road, but allow private cars to drive the length of the road without parking. Expand the Apgar campground, and build a new visitor center there.

Plan 2 would try to make connections between Glacier and the surrounding wilderness areas. It would: Preserve blocks of Glacier as undeveloped land. Push access to the park to the outside edges, halting growth in the southern part of the park. Remove Camas Road, which runs along the park’s western side. Remove lodging and services in different areas around the park.

Plan 3 would emphasize new cooperation with communities outside the park to handle visitors. It would: Create a transit-only system on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Reopen Highway 49 to the east of the park to allow for more access around Glacier. Reopen and expand several campgrounds. Build a boat launch on St. Mary’s Lake on Glacier’s eastern side.

Where to comment Of the 11 public meetings to discuss Glacier’s future, here are the closest ones to the Inland Northwest: Pablo, Mont., 6:30 p.m., Aug. 20, Main Tribal Complex Building/Tribal Council Chambers and BIA East. Missoula, 6:30 p.m., Aug. 20, Holiday Inn Parkside, Ballroom B. West Glacier, Mont., 6:30 p.m., Aug. 19, Community Building. Or write to: Glacier National Park, GMP/EIS Project, West Glacier, Mont. 59936-0128. Find more information on-line at: http://www.nps.gov/glac


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email