For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People

Listen to the millions who won’t make corridor comments

By Dave Skinner

With reconstruction on the Going-to-the-Sun Road over Logan Pass near done, Glacier National Park management is proposing possible visitor management changes for the Sun Road corridor.

My dad and I probably rate as jaded locals, who appreciate the luxury of being jaded. Been there, done that, often. Park days saw us zooming into the park at O-dark, to be hiking before sunrise. Uphill, it was just us. Downhill, we’d meet and greet a few other visitors and be on our way elsewhere by early afternoon.

Well, the last couple of years, Dad has had some medical challenges almost as tough as he is. Our routine is much different now, less “solitary” and more “social.”

One perfect day last year, Dad decided he wanted to try the Hidden Lake trail. On the road at a civilized hour, we stared at the bumper in front of us all the way up Logan Pass, then enjoyed the ritual of circling for a place to park.

Gosh, it was nice. Dad paced himself, chugging clear to the overlook, allowing me to try something new in Glacier Park – socializing and people-watching. Even more amazing, I ran into a couple of friends – yes, I have a few. Big smiles all around.

As a big, fat bonus, Rocky the Goat and all his relatives were hanging out at the saddle, with at least 500 excited and happy visitors snapping photographs. Most clueless were two fraternity bros, trying to maneuver Rocky Junior into posing with their Omega Mega Dolta banner for a selfie. Dad and I agreed we wouldn’t mind witnessing a “Pamplona moment” – Pamplona being where the Spaniards run their fighting bulls through streets full of aspiring idiots. Ole!

Compared to other visits, this day left some impressions: First, déjà vu. Hidden Lake that afternoon reminded me of visiting New York’s Central Park or Bronx Zoo, or for that matter, the 10 or so other national park units I’ve visited. Unlike Central Park, I didn’t see one speck of Noo Yawk trash, or meet anyone Noo Yawk brash. Nearly everyone respected where they were and who they were with.

Second, we both realized we had fully shared, after many years, the profoundly urban, developed and artificial experience of the screaming majority of Glacier visitors – the “real” Glacier Park.

Third, while jaded Dad and I were enjoying a good day, we were less jaded upon realizing most everyone else had just had their Best! Day! Ever!

Picture perfect weather? Jackpot! Rocky up close and personal, not just a white dot on a rock? Powerball!

Does that matter? Well, recently I read a letter to the editor about public lands policy. The writer turned out to be a Park Service retiree, who as Glacier staff, had opposed improving and up-armoring the Hidden Lake trail back in the 1970s after the visitor center at the pass was built – spurring more use of Hidden Lake Trail, of course.

Let’s imagine his position had prevailed, or does soon. Instead of 500 Glacier Powerball winners bragging about their “big score” to anyone willing to listen for the rest of their lives, let’s imagine 500 people kept away that day. How about 250 people on the trail coming down and bragging up Rocky to the 250 stuck at the bottom without permits? Oh, that would play well.

No amount of millions in Glacier’s budget could ever buy that kind of positive PR, consumer loyalty, or, for NPS, political support. True love isn’t bought. Love is earned.

During the planning period, I’d suggest Glacier staff attempt to “experience” the “real” Glacier like my father and I finally did. Ditch your uniforms, pack your families, drive and park (or at least try) your own rigs, ride (and wait for) the shuttles.

Walk the walk, and listen to the talk of at least a few of the millions who won’t make corridor comments. Let them explain why America has a Park Service: “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People.”

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