Snow blankets the Belton Bridge and the banks of the Middle Fork of the Flathead River in West Glacier on Jan. 7, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon
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As Visitation Spikes, West Glacier Frames Forward-thinking ‘Vision’ Plan

Community-driven planning project creates a roadmap for future land use, development and identifies shared values

By Tristan Scott

In an effort to maintain its historic character amid skyrocketing visitation to Glacier National Park, the small, unincorporated gateway community of West Glacier has drafted a “vision” plan to identify shared values and help guide land-use planning and development into the future.

Released this month in draft form, the West Glacier Community Vision Plan is the product of a year’s worth of stakeholder meetings and input, with the public invited to review the proposed draft and provide input to Flathead County zoning officials.

“The intent of the Vision Plan is to focus planning efforts and policies to address current issues and future opportunities,” according to the plan’s executive summary. “It is a planning document that aids in making decisions on land use, redevelopment, public services, facilities, infrastructure, environment and community communications.”

A little over a year ago, the National Parks Conservation Association helped the community apply for a technical grant from the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program to engage with the public on the future of West Glacier, through which a lion’s share of the park’s 3 million annual visitors enter. 

Although stakeholder meetings over the past year were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, limiting public outreach and engagement, the planning team held in-person public meetings in February 2020 and synthesized participants’ comments for publication in the draft plan.

West Glacier resident Mary T. McClelland helped spearhead the effort and said the early meetings were helpful, but acknowledged the need to treat the vision plan as “a living document that should be revisited and discussed fully and openly when people can safely meet again in person.”

“This isn’t just about long-term residents,” McClelland, whose family has lived in the area since the 1960s, said. “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 members of the West Glacier Planning Team, in addition to McClelland, are Mark Mussman, director of Flathead County Planning and Zoning; Glacier National Park Superintendent Jeff Mow; Sarah Lundstrum of the National Parks Conservation Association; Mary Riddle, chief of planning at Glacier; Patsy McEntee of the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program; Monica Jungster, owner of the Montana House in West Glacier; and Gary Rodgers, general manager of Pursuit.

According to McEntee, Glacier’s gateway community is not the first to create a visioning document in recent years with the help of the Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program, and pointed to gateway communities near Moab, Zion and Rocky Mountain national parks as other examples of similar plans in recent years.

“The purpose … is 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.

Specifically, the West Glacier Community Vision Plan seeks new ways of amending or updating the county’s current neighborhood plan that governs development in West Glacier and the surrounding area. The current plan, the Canyon Area Neighborhood Plan, was adopted in 1994 as an amendment to the Flathead County Master Plan. 

Under the recommendations of the West Glacier Vision Plan, the Canyon Plan could either be amended or, ideally, the West Glacier Vision Plan “should be adopted as its own neighborhood plan,” the draft document states. That adoption would require adoption by the Flathead County Commission.

To that end, development of the WGVP follows the prescribed guidelines of creating a neighborhood plan outlined in the Flathead County Growth Policy, including initial organizational meetings, identifying existing conditions, drafting the community vision, characteristics and goals, and preparing the draft — all steps the WGVP has taken that will help it move forward into the future, McClelland said. 

The plan also lays out five “value statements” — preserve community character and sense of place; create a safe and resilient community; enhance community communications and participation; support sustainable outdoor recreation opportunities; and provide seamless transportation connections. 

“As this plan enters the next steps of County and public reviews and comment period, the final route to adoption will be determined and communicated,” the executive summary states. “We invite feedback and discussion on all parts of this plan and offer the opportunity for any individual or organization to participate in support of these goals.”

The draft is posted on the Flathead County website at flathead.mt.gov/planning_zoning/ and is available for public comment.

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