Glacier National Park is proposing to restrict public access in the Swiftcurrent Valley located west of Many Glacier for a multi-year infrastructure improvement project that would affect the Many Glacier Campground, the boat launch and picnic area, the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, and several of the park’s most popular trailheads from Sept. 30, 2024 through April 2026.
Impacts to visitors would be most noticeable during July and August of 2025, when services that are typically open to the public would be unavailable.
“There would be very little change to the availability of services during the fall and spring shoulder season, since services in the area are normally closed during these times,” according to planning documents released Friday.
Park officials on June 30 announced they were beginning a “civic engagement” process for the proposal and encouraged members of the public to check out a story map describing the project’s purpose and to submit comment by July 30. A decision is anticipated in the winter of 2023-24.
“Most of the infrastructure providing water to the area was originally installed in the 1960s and has been updated as needed over the past 50 years,” according to the civic engagement story map. “Updating this outdated infrastructure would reduce the need for costly ongoing repairs and provide a backup water supply that is not currently existent.”
The Swiftcurrent developed area is situated on the east side of the park and the closures would affect the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn and General Store, as well as the adjacent cabins; the Many Glacier Campground; the Swiftcurrent Picnic Area; the Swiftcurrent Lake boat launch; the Many Glacier Ranger Station; and multiple trailheads.
During the closure period, the public would be unable to access trailheads to four popular trails, including those leading to Iceberg Lake, Ptarmigan Tunnel, Swiftcurrent Pass to the Highline Trail, and Grinnell Glacier. However, planning officials emphasized that “while area trailheads would be temporarily closed during the one-time construction closure, the trails themselves would remain open.”
For example, the Iceberg Lake, Ptarmigan Tunnel and Swiftcurrent Pass trails could still be accessed at the west end of the project area via the horse trail that bypasses the construction zone. The park is also considering a hiker transportation or shuttle system to help visitors access the trail system. The Grinnell Glacier Trail would not be accessible from the Swiftcurrent picnic area during the closure period, but it could still be accessed from the Many Glacier Hotel.
The Many Glacier Hotel and its associated concessioner services are outside of the project area and would not be affected by the closure.
Dubbed the “Swiftcurrent Area Water, Road, and Parking Improvement Project,” park officials say the improvements are needed to replace the developed area’s water system, improve the road, expand parking, and upgrade outmoded infrastructure. It would also enhance the visitor experience by improving parking areas and roadways while decreasing damages to cultural and natural resources, according to planning documents.
According to the story map, high visitation in the Swiftcurrent Valley currently results in filled parking lots and visitors parking in undesignated areas along the sides of roadways.
“High visitation in Swiftcurrent Valley currently results in filled parking lots and visitors parking in undesignated areas along the sides of this road segment,” the proposal states. “This has damaged vegetation along the roadway, puts pedestrians in the road with cars, and hinders wildlife crossing. Proposed parking options would allow for a safer visitor experience, prevent damage to park resources, and remove barriers to natural wildlife movements. Roadway rehabilitation including pavement and drainage improvements would preserve this road for continued access for the 21st century.”
Acknowledging that the Swiftcurrent Valley is a popular visitor destination, park officials say the one-time closure would allow the work to be consolidated into a much shorter timeframe, rather than prolonging impacts to visitors for three or more years.
The park says it is considering how to minimize impacts to visitors and park operations during construction and welcomes additional feedback.
The story map describing the proposal is available for review and comment online at https://parkplanning.nps.gov/Swiftcurrent. Comments can also be sent to Superintendent, Glacier National Park, Attn: Swiftcurrent Developed Area Proposal PO, Box 128, West Glacier, Mont., 59936. Comments are due by July 30, 2023.
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.