Glacier National Park waters including Lake McDonald have begun opening to boats, with area inspection stations debuting on west-side waters May 11 to combat the spread of aquatic invasive species.
East-side park waters and inspection stations will open to boating on June 1.
In an effort to prevent aquatic invasive species like zebra and quagga mussels from entering park waters on motorboats, park officials have released detailed inspection procedures and are urging boaters to become well-versed in the protocol prior to their visit.
Glacier National Park sits at the headwaters of three continental-scale watersheds, and the introduction of invasive mussels would have significant economic, ecological and recreational impacts not only for the park but also communities downstream, officials warned.
In November 2016, Glacier Park officials immediately closed park waters to all watercraft following the discovery of destructive mussel larvae in Tiber and Canyon Ferry reservoirs east of the Continental Divide, just 100 air miles from the boundary of Glacier Park and the headwaters of the Columbia River Basin. It was the first such detection of the invasive species in the state’s history.
Last year park personnel inspected 10,742 non-motorized watercraft, according to Park Superintendent Jeff Mow.
He urged visitors to plan ahead, build time into their schedules and have their watercraft clean, drained, dry, and ready for inspection upon arrival. Although many non-motorized boats can be inspected on top of vehicle roof racks, boaters should be prepared to take their boats down for inspection, especially if they have internal standing water or are dirty.
The park received funding again this year from the Glacier National Park Conservancy to expand inspection capacity to prevent the introduction of non-native aquatic invaders. These funds allow the park to offer significantly extended inspection dates and hours of operation.
Procedures for Gas-Powered Watercraft
Gas-powered motorized watercraft will be allowed on Lake McDonald, Two Medicine and Bowman lakes after a 30-day “dry time.”
Watercraft should be clean, drained and dry before inspection.
Motorized boats will be sealed to trailers after inspection, and must maintain the intact seal and documentation of inspection and sealing for the 30-day dry time.
Park staff will check documentation and remove seals prior to launch.
Inspection seals from stations operated by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the Blackfeet Nation, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, and Whitefish Lake will be honored on Lake McDonald and Two Medicine Lake after the requisite 30-day “dry time.”
Boaters on Two Medicine and Bowman lakes should review the Glacier National Park boating page for specific instructions related to quarantine and launch for those areas, as well as motor size restrictions.
Hand-launched gas-powered watercraft of less than 10 horsepower will be allowed on Bowman Lake, but trailers are not permitted on Bowman Road so hand launching is required.
Procedures for Hand-Propelled Watercraft
After inspection, non-motorized, non-trailered watercraft also may launch on May 11 on west-side waters without the 30-day dry time, though all watercraft should be clean, drained and dry before the inspection.
Non-trailered boats with electric trolling motors may launch on Lake McDonald, Bowman, Two Medicine, St. Mary, Sherburne, and Swiftcurrent lakes without a dry time because the air-cooled motors are classified as lower risk.
Procedures for Watercraft Available for Rent
Motorized watercraft rented and operated under the National Park Service contract with Glacier Park Boat Company will continue to be available, in addition to boat tours. Motorboat rentals will be available this summer on Lake McDonald and Two Medicine Lake.
AIS Detection Dogs
This year, the park and partner agencies will provide dogs specially trained in invasive mussel detection. These aquatic invasive species (AIS) detection dogs will use scent to assist human inspectors at select inspection stations this summer.
Working Dogs for Conservation in Bozeman and Black Dog Services in Missoula will provide the dogs. Other project partners include Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the Blackfeet Nation and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. Because of expense and time factors, the dogs’ work is limited in Montana.
However, the canines provide a valuable service and act as an innovative outreach tool to communicate with the public about the importance of aquatic invasive species prevention.
When finalized, the schedule for AIS detection dogs visiting state, tribal and federal inspection stations will be posted on the park’s boating page.
Boat Inspection Standards
All non-motorized watercraft will be inspected, including but not limited to canoes, kayaks, rowboats, sail boats, paddleboards, float tubes, inner tubes, and wind surfboards.
Small, low-grade inflatable children’s water toys including water wings, rings, etc. will not require a permit. Watercraft must be accessible and inflated for inspection — un-inflated rafts or float tubes, watercraft with internal water holding tanks and wash systems will be denied a launch permit.
New, unused inflatable watercraft will not require an inspection; however, they will require a permit before launching.
An inspection will be required upon each entry to the park if intending to launch, but visitors staying overnight in the park will not need a daily inspection.
For more information on where and when inspections are available, visit www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/boating.htm.