Guest Column

Locals Getting Shut Out of Glacier Park

In recent years, it seems like park management is only too anxious to reduce the visitor season

By Paul Lally

Glacier Park Superintendent Jeff Mow has systematically reduced the visitor season for Going-to-the-Sun Road to Logan Pass from five to six months down to three to four months. The new entry ticket policy is just another case of how locals are getting shut out of the park, but this is not new! 

Historically, the park had managed the opening and closing of Going-to-the-Sun Road using a common sense approach – the weather was the determining factor. In examining the historical data, there were many years when snow removal was safe to open Logan Pass during the last week of May. Now, it’s typically mid to late June even in years of light snowpack. Heck, even the Many Glacier Road used to be open in April, as it was relatively easy to maintain. Fact is, almost every access road into the park was open earlier in years past.  

Closing dates sometimes extended into November! At some point, an arbitrary decision was made to close the road to Logan Pass on the third Monday in October, regardless of the weather. Montanans are fully aware Indian summer conditions are not uncommon during the latter half of October and sometimes into November. I have been hiking down the Highline Trail as late as November 10 when it was 65 degrees with zero snow accumulation. In years past, every effort was made to keep the road open as long as possible, which meant re-plowing the road when practical. Now, if there is any snow in September or early October, there is little motivation to re-open the road.  

In recent years, it seems like park management is only too anxious to reduce the visitor season. As a native of Los Angeles, California, Superintendent Jeff Mow may not fully appreciate the significance Glacier National Park has on the communities of the Flathead Valley that benefit from the park being open as much as possible.  

The effects of global warming may see mild conditions extend beyond the opening and closing dates the park is currently mandating. Plus, in light of this new entry ticket policy, more emphasis should be made to extend these shoulder seasons for the local community to enjoy. It’s understood, that concession services need hard dates for their businesses, but the park could announce to the local media if the roads are open earlier or later in the season, as they once did. 

The fact that we haven’t seen early or late season road open dates since Superintendent Michael Holm (2002-2008), suggests that it is one man’s decision, rather than the Department of the Interior, with input from the local communities and the superintendent. It may be time for our local chambers of commerce and the people of Montana to petition for a new superintendent who has a better understanding of the needs of the community as part of these management decisions. Most of the past superintendents’ tenure was around four-five years, whereas Jeff Mow is now in his ninth year. Time to move on! 

Paul Lally lives in Bozeman.

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