Perils of the Park

I’m hard-pressed to remember such a string of unfortunate events as took place beginning July 9

By Kellyn Brown

Glacier National Park presents its own set of dangers before it fully opens. Last year, during a late spring bike road on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, my party happened upon on a man who had flown over his handlebars while descending the alpine thoroughfare.

Initially, he struggled to remember his name. His helmet was cracked. His shirt was ripped, exposing a shoulder with deep road rash. His mouth was bloodied and it appeared he had bitten clean through his lip.

While a few cyclists tended to the man, others, including myself, continued down the road to find help. At The Loop, roughly a quarter mile away, a lone cyclist was waiting; he apparently had been riding with the man and began pedaling back uphill after being told about the accident.

I spend a lot of time in the park and, while I have encountered a few traffic accidents, that bike crash was the worst injury I had ever seen in person. We had plenty of theories about what must have happened: The victim was traveling too fast and lost control; he hit one of the grates in the road at an awkward angle; he swerved to avoid rocks. Regardless, he was lucky it wasn’t worse.

Incidents like these are common in the park and tend to only increase after it completely opens and crowds rush in. With so many visitors entering its gates, the odds of a mishap or worse only increase. Over the years we have written about dozens of them, but I’m hard-pressed to remember such a string of unfortunate events as took place beginning July 9.

At about 5 p.m. that Monday, a driver near the Packer’s Roost area on the east side of the park swerved off the Going-to-the-Sun Road to avoid another vehicle that was apparently stopped to view a bear. That driver and two passengers went 40 feet down an embankment. Traffic was snarled for three hours as rangers rescued the occupants and a tow truck removed the vehicle. Luckily, no one suffered life-threatening injuries. But those weren’t the only injuries that day.

Around the same time, a visitor suffered a fractured ankle after falling from a horse near Lake Josephine. The victim was carried to the trailhead before the ALERT helicopter transferred them to the hospital. Meanwhile, officials were responding to more emergency calls across the park: an infant locked in a car; two missing parties; a bear struck by a vehicle on U.S. Highway 2; a drunken driver; and, finally, an abandoned dog.

And it was only Monday.

The week from hell continued the next day after another driver, this time after apparently falling asleep, drifted off the Going-to-the-Sun Road near Apgar. Following the accident, the road was closed for two hours and traffic reportedly backed up for more than 10 miles.

That Wednesday, the carnage continued. Another person was thrown from a horse and trampled. That same day, a cyclist, likely swerving to avoid a collision with a bear, crashed his bike and was airlifted to a local hospital. Both victims were in stable condition.

The summer crunch in our beloved park has only begun and park officials reported earlier this month that law enforcement and emergency services incidents to date are up 40 percent over last year. That’s despite Glacier officials’ best efforts to educate visitors on the potential perils within its borders.

Accidents happen, but a little vigilance could prevent many of them. And that would make everyone’s visit to the Crown Jewel of the Continent at once safer and more enjoyable.

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