Despite local opposition, the Flathead County Commission approved a plan for a new RV park on the southern edge of Glacier National Park.
The unanimous vote by the commission on May 19 gives Glacier Park Inc. the green light to develop a campground for 102 recreational vehicle spaces and 25 cabins on a 178-acre forested tract of land along River Bend Drive, just west of the West Glacier Village.
While GPI officials said the new RV park will enable them to share the wonders of Glacier Park with more people, local residents are concerned about increased traffic through the already congested village of West Glacier, especially during the busy summer season.
“You can only add so many fish to a fish bowl before that bowl starts to deteriorate,” said West Glacier resident Terry Divoky during a May 16 public hearing on the proposal. “The only one who will benefit from this project is GPI, but everyone else in the community will suffer.”
During the comment period on May 16, residents raised numerous concerns about pollution, safety and impacts on wildlife, but the biggest issue was vehicle traffic. Residents noted that in the busy summer months, huge lines of cars queue up at the entrances to Glacier National Park and a new RV park at the southern gate would only exacerbate the issue.
Residents also took issue with a traffic study produced by a contractor for GPI because it was conducted in October, when there’s considerably less traffic through West Glacier. GPI officials, however, noted that while traffic patterns were studied in October, the final report utilized data from the busy summer months. Because so many questions were raised about GPI’s traffic study, the commission continued the vote until May 19 to further analyze the report. On May 19, the commission said the traffic study was sufficient.
The commission noted that while the RV park would add some traffic to West Glacier, specifically at the intersection of River Bend Drive and Going-to-the-Sun Road, it would be improper to deny the permit or expect GPI to build a second access road. However, Commissioner Phil Mitchell said if GPI wants to develop the 178-acre site further, including building additional homes on the property, a second route to U.S. Highway 2 would be appropriate.
The commission approved the preliminary plat for the RV park with a number of conditions. While GPI had originally requested letting guests have up to three dogs at their campsite, the commission lowered that to one dog per site. The commission also requested that GPI work with the Montana Department of Transportation to identify reasonable improvements to the intersections of U.S. Highway 2 and Going-to-the-Sun Road and Going-to-the-Sun Road and River Bend Drive to make both safer.
Lastly, the commission required GPI to build a paved, public pathway through their own property connecting the RV park with the West Glacier village so that people would not have to walk alongside River Bend Drive.
Sharon Bengtson, a West Glacier resident, said she still believes the RV park will only exacerbate traffic problems there but added that she appreciated the commission adding a condition that GPI construct a path to town.
Rebecca Baker, a spokesperson for GPI, said the company is excited to begin construction on the new park, possibly as early as this year, for a 2018 opening.
“We want to continue working with local residents and the community to make this project work,” she said. “Just because this park has been approved does not mean (those outreach efforts) are over.”
The proposal for an RV park comes three years after GPI acquired the property when it purchased the West Glacier land holdings from the Lundgren family in July 2014. The deal included the West Glacier Mercantile and other holdings in West Glacier, as well as cabins in Apgar in Glacier National Park.