As Visitation Continues to Rise, West Glacier Looks to Craft ‘Vision’ for the Future

Public meeting about Glacier Park Gateway Project scheduled for Feb. 12

By Justin Franz

In an effort to maintain the community’s historic character amid skyrocketing visitation to Glacier National Park, the small gateway community of West Glacier is preparing a vision plan to help guide it moving forward.

Recently, the National Parks Conservation Association helped the community get a technical grant from the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program to engage with the public about the future of West Glacier, where a large percentage of Glacier’s 3 million annual visitors enter the park. A public hearing and open house about the Glacier Park Gateway Project will be held at Flathead Valley Community College in Kalispell on Feb. 12 at 6 p.m. A number of stakeholder meetings will also be held in West Glacier that week.

West Glacier resident Mary McClelland is helping spearhead the effort and said the meetings will allow the public to share its thoughts on what West Glacier’s future should look like.

“This isn’t just about us long-term residents,” said McClelland, whose family has lived in the area since the 1960s. “We want to hear from everyone; full-time residents, part-time residents, local businesses and visitors … We’re really about listening right now.”

Among the groups involved in the effort are Flathead County, Glacier National Park, local West Glacier businesses, the University of Montana Society and Conservation Department, the Montana State Office of Outdoor Recreation, the U.S. Forest Service, NPCA and other state and regional partners.

Patsy McEntee, project manager of Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program, said Glacier’s gateway community is not the first to create a community vision in recent years with the help of the program. Communities near Moab, Zion and Rocky Mountain national parks have created similar vision plans in recent years.

“The purpose of these meetings are to bring as many people as possible together and find common ground,” she said.

McClelland said millions of people visit West Glacier every year and, for the most part, the community has been able to maintain its historic character. The Glacier Park Gateway Project vision plan aims to help the community form a “roadmap” for the future.

McEntee said an item that may be addressed in the community vision plan is ways to update the county’s current neighborhood plan that governs development in West Glacier and the surrounding area. The Canyon Area Neighborhood Plan was adopted in 1994 as an amendment to the Flathead County Master Plan. Other items include improving communications and coordination between various stakeholders in the community; creating a vision that promotes a “fire-safe” community; and ensuring that the area’s natural and scenic values can be preserved and enjoyed by future generations.

Following the community meetings in February, a draft community vision plan will be put together. McEntee said the draft could be ready by late summer.

For more information, visit westglacier.mindmixer.com.