Officials Say Glacier Park Snow Plows Will Run on Schedule

By Beacon Staff

Crews in Glacier National Park will plow the Going-to-the-Sun Road on schedule but visitor centers and campgrounds will close earlier due to budget cuts, park administrators announced Tuesday.

Thanks to funds from the Glacier National Park Conservancy and salary savings from unanticipated personnel changes, Glacier Park will avoid a delayed opening of its main thoroughfare due to the recent sequestration.

“We greatly appreciate the financial offer from the Glacier National Park Conservancy,” acting superintendent Kym Hall said in a statement. “Their timely support will allow for the continuity and emphasis we place on snow plowing activities, especially as crews approach the ‘big drift’ near Logan Pass and the culmination of the tremendous road opening effort.”

In the wake of federal sequestration and on the eve of the busy visitation season, park officials have been scrambling to determine spending priorities for all operations after being hit with a sudden loss of $682,000 from its $13.5 million budget. Like all other national sites and domestic government agencies, Glacier is faced with the across-the-board cutbacks that are in effect through the fiscal year, ending in September.

Park administrators originally said the opening of the west side of the Sun Road could be delayed by two weeks due to staff reductions.

Rick Bennet, treasurer of the Glacier National Park Conservancy, said the organization rallied financial support to help the park maintain its spring plow schedule because of the importance of opening the Sun Road on time. The organization agreed to provide roughly $10,000 to cover plowing costs, Bennet said.

“The local businesses and the visitors of the park depend upon it being fully open. That’s just a huge event,” Bennet said. “We have our own stores, too. It’s important for those stores to get open. The park just means so much to everybody. So somebody had to step up.”

The Glacier National Park Conservancy, which merged the Glacier National Park Fund and the Glacier Association in January, raises financial support for various resources and aspects of park operations.

The status of the Sun Road’s opening is now dependent on weather and ongoing rehabilitation. The 50-mile stretch up to Logan Pass is slated to open June 21, according to the park. Plows will begin clearing roads April 1 and will likely reach the upper stretch of the Sun Road by May. Weather has proven to be a deterrent in the past. Two years ago, the Sun Road opened July 13 due to deep spring snowpack that hampered crews from plowing.

Private contractors are involved in the ongoing process of rebuilding sections of the Sun Road. The stretch to Logan Pass will remain open longer on the west side, into late October, for the first time in five years since rehabilitation started.

In response to sequestration, Glacier Park will delay the hiring of five vacant permanent positions. An unspecified number of seasonal employees will not be hired and other staff members will see reduced hours, according to the park. The park employs roughly 135 permanent employees. An additional 350 summer seasonal employees arrive for the core season between Memorial Day to Labor Day.

The park also imposed reductions in travel, training, overtime, vehicle leases and supply and equipment purchases for the remainder of the fiscal year.

According to park officials, the reduction in staffing will lead to several changes, including delayed trail access and decreased trail maintenance; reduction in native plant restoration; decrease in entrance station hours; less maintenance work on park facilities, roads and utility systems; limited and delayed emergency response outside the core season; and decreased educational programming and ranger-led activities.

“We took a thoughtful and analytical approach to implementing program reductions as outlined by Congress, while taking into account the number of visitors served, number of visitors impacted, revenue loss versus savings gained, economic impacts to the surrounding communities and businesses, resource stewardship, and critical life, health and safety concerns for employees and visitors,” Hall said.

“It is challenging, and the reality is that we all will see and feel the effects of sequestration.”

Hall said these are only the impacts for this season, and it is unknown what the impacts will be next year, but she anticipated that 2014 will be filled with “many more challenges and changes.”

Impacts of Budget Cuts on Glacier National Park
Source: Glacier National Park
According to park officials, the impacts from reduced seasonal staff will affect several areas of park management, including:

Apgar Visitor Center — Seven-day operations delayed by two weeks in spring and transition to weekend only operations five weeks earlier in the fall and reduced daily hours of operation

Logan Pass Visitor Center — Close two weeks earlier in the fall

St. Mary Visitor Center — Close approximately one month earlier in the fall and reduced hours of operation in the evening

Bowman Lake Campground — Services reduced one week earlier in the fall and primitive camping may be limited

Cut Bank Campground — Close one week earlier in the fall

Kintla Campground — Open three weeks later and reduced services one week earlier and primitive camping may be limited

Many Glacier Campground — Open one week later in the fall and primitive camping will be limited in the fall

Rising Sun Campground — Close one week earlier in the fall

Sprague Campground — Delay 10 days in spring opening and close one week earlier in fall

St. Mary Campground — Services reduced one week in spring and one week in fall

Two Medicine Campground — Close one week earlier and no primitive camping in the fall

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