Glacier Park

With Tribal Staffing of AIS Inspection Stations, Boating to Resume on Glacier Park’s East Side

Due to the threat of aquatic invasive species and the inability to staff seasonal inspection stations, boating has been prohibited on Two Medicine and St. Mary Lakes since 2019

By Tristan Scott
Sinopah Mountain is reflected in Two Medicine Lake on a calm morning in Glacier National Park on Oct. 15, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Marking the first season that boating has been allowed on Two Medicine and St. Mary lakes since 2019 — and the first time that motorized boats have been permitted on St. Mary Lake since invasive mussels were detected in Montana in 2016 — Glacier National Park officials announced a renewed partnership with the Blackfeet Nation that allows aquatic invasive species inspection stations to resume operations on the park’s east side beginning July 20.

Without adequate staffing to open the inspection stations, boating has been prohibited on park waters east of the Continental Divide for the past two summers.

“Glacier National Park is pleased to enter into this agreement with the Blackfeet Nation to provide quality inspections for the protection of these lakes so that we can open them to boating after a four-year hiatus,” Glacier Superintendent Dave Roemer said in a prepared statement. “This is a good step towards our co-stewardship goals with the tribe.” 

St. Mary, Two Medicine and Lake McDonald are the only lakes in Glacier National Park that allow motorized boating, except for Bowman Lake, which allows non-water-cooled motors that are 10 horsepower or less.  

St. Mary and Two Medicine lakes have been closed to boating since the end of the 2019 season due to COVID-19 and lingering staffing challenges. In 2021 and 2022, the park attempted to operate the stations but were unsuccessful in recruiting enough staff to work at all locations.

Last year, Glacier Park officials and Blackfeet tribal leaders began negotiating a contract to use tribal inspectors to reopen the stations.

According to the July 17 announcement, the tribal leaders and park administrators struck an agreement to recruit tribal inspectors to operate the stations, which are meant to guard against the threat of aquatic invasive species (AIS).

This will be the first season motorized boating will be allowed on St. Mary Lake since mussels were detected in Montana in 2016.

In November 2016, Glacier Park officials immediately closed park waters to all watercraft following the discovery of destructive mussel larvae in Tiber and Canyon Ferry reservoirs east of the Continental Divide, just 100 air miles from the boundary of Glacier Park and the headwaters of the Columbia River Basin. It was the first such detection of the invasive species in the state’s history.

Motorized boat inspections by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP), Whitefish Lake, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT), the Blackfeet, and Waterton Lakes National Park are also accepted, but motorboats must undergo a 30-day quarantine period prior to launching park waters. Non-motorized watercrafts must obtain an inspection upon each entry to the park.

The watercraft inspection station near Browning. Beacon file photo

St. Mary and Two Medicine AIS inspection stations will operate 7 a.m. – 5 p.m., seven days a week. The St. Mary AIS station is located at the St. Mary Visitor Center. The Two Medicine AIS station is located just prior to the park entrance.  

According to the park’s announcement, AIS inspections are required for protection against non-native species that can devastate native aquatic ecosystems, as well as negatively change visitor use and enjoyment of park waterways. AIS can come in many forms, including animals such as zebra and quagga mussels, plants such as Eurasian watermilfoil, or pathogens such as whirling disease. These species can hitch a ride on any equipment including motorized and non-motorized watercraft such as float tubes, kayaks, paddleboards, canoes and trailers. 

“Waters from Glacier’s extensive system of lakes, rivers and streams are the headwaters of three major watersheds that reach the Columbia River System and the Pacific Ocean; the Missouri River and the Atlantic Ocean via the Gulf of Mexico; and the South Saskatchewan River and Hudson Bay. It is critical that these headwaters are protected to prevent the spread of invasive species throughout the continent,” according to the park’s release.

For more details, including location and hours of operation for all AIS stations in the park, please visit the park boating webpage.  

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