The park expects that visitation will remain high. Last year 3.3 million people visited the park, a new record and an increase of 12% over 2016. June, July, and August will likely continue to see very crowded conditions. Visitors should plan ahead and identify several day-trip options in case they encounter full areas in various portions of the park, particularly in the North Fork, Many Glacier, Two Medicine, Avalanche, and Logan Pass. Trip planning resources are available on the park’s website. Additionally, abundant local, state, and federal public lands surround Glacier National Park and offer spectacular scenery and often quieter experiences.
Sprague Fire Rehabilitation
Following the Sprague Fire and the loss of the Sperry Chalet dormitory building in August of 2017, the park and the Glacier National Park Conservancy launched a stabilization effort to protect the remnant Sperry Chalet dormitory walls from winter wind and snow loads. The park also completed flood mitigation efforts in the Sprague and Snyder Creek drainages to prepare for the possibility of increased flood risk following the fire.
As the snow melts this spring and summer, the park will begin rehabilitation efforts on trails impacted by the Sprague Fire. Those efforts will likely continue for two or more years. Significant work, including clearing many downed trees, will need to be completed next summer before some trails can reopen to the public. Other trails may close intermittently while trail work occurs within the Sprague Fire burn area. Three backcountry campgrounds (Snyder Lake, Sperry, and Lincoln Lake) were significantly impacted by the fire and will likely open much later in the 2018 summer season. Visitors interested in hiking trails within the burn area should consult the park’s trail status page for updates as conditions and closures may change throughout the summer season.
Road Rehabilitation, Maintenance, and Closures
The park will complete the decade-long Going-to-the-Sun Road rehabilitation between 2018-2019. On the west side, vehicles will continue to detour through Apgar Village during the early 2018 season, while the road is reconstructed along a portion known as the Apgar Curve. Additional pullout work along the Going-to-the-Sun Road will occur that was delayed due to road closures related to the Sprague Fire. Visitors can expect 30 minute cumulative delays throughout the summer, and many of the turnouts along Lake McDonald and Upper McDonald Creek will be closed while upgrades occur. Additionally, in the spring, park crews will continue boardwalk construction between the existing Trail of the Cedars and the newly constructed footbridge across Avalanche Creek. In St. Mary, modifications to the recently constructed entrance station will occur in the fall of 2018.
Routine pavement preservation may also occur in 2018 or 2019, funding and scheduling dependent. Pavement preservation lays layers of a protective coating over the road, extending the life of the pavement substantially. The preservation work includes the entire Going-to-the-Sun Road, Chief Mountain Road, a portion of the Camas Road, Apgar Village Loop, and other minor areas. The work requires dry and moderately warm conditions to cure. The park expects Going-to-the-Sun Road closures related to this work. If funding is secured for 2018, the park will update the public about the scope of the closures, which would likely be scheduled in mid-June and mid-September.
In 2019, a contract will be awarded to finalize the multi-year rehabilitation work on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Final repairs will occur to masonry features, some log rails will be replaced, and some signing improvements will be installed.
Aquatic Invasive Species and Boating Inspections
This last year saw the discovery of invasive zebra or quagga mussels within the State of Montana. The park temporarily closed its waters in accordance with its Aquatic Invasive Species Emergency Action Plan. Waters reopened to hand-propelled watercraft in May of 2017 following an inspection, and Lake McDonald reopened to motorized watercraft following 30 day quarantine in mid-summer.
Park waters were surveyed for the presence of the invasive mussels (as they have been annually since 2011) and tests using environmental DNA as well as more standard juvenile mussel sampling all indicate park waters remain free of these species.
Environmental DNA sampling is a relatively new method for early detection of aquatic invaders and uses water samples collected from a lake or stream to look for the DNA of invasive mussels whereas other sampling methods generally rely on capturing the ”veligers”, or juvenile planktonic stage of the invasive mussels to confirm their presence in a lake or stream. The latter approach can only be used in the park in summer and fall when water temperatures are suitable for mussel spawning. Environmental DNA sampling can occur at any time of the year because DNA is continually being shed into the environment. Both approaches have their pros and cons but by using them in combination, the park intends to maximize its early detection ability which is critical to managing the potential spread of any infestation.
Similar to 2017, the park will reopen waters to boating in late spring. At minimum, hand-propelled, non-trailered boat inspections will be available at all locations offered last year: Apgar, Two Medicine, St. Mary, and Many Glacier. Following inspection, clean, drained, and dry hand-propelled boats will be permitted to launch immediately.
Inspection stations will open on May 12 for west side waters, and June 1 for east side waters.
Motorized boating will be permitted on Lake McDonald following a boat inspection, seal, and 30-day dry time (quarantine). This year, the park will honor Montana State, Whitefish Lake, and Blackfeet Tribal motorized watercraft inspections and seals with verified 30-day dry time before launch on Lake McDonald.
This year also, non-trailered watercraft with electric non-water cooled engines will be permitted on Bowman, St. Mary, and Two Medicine Lakes immediately following inspection. A 10 horsepower limitation applies to motors on Bowman and Two Medicine Lakes. The park’s aquatic invasive species prevention team emphasizes that clean, drained, and dry watercraft will speed inspection times and allow boaters more time to enjoy recreating on park waters.
The aquatic invasive species prevention program is funded through a combination of federal and philanthropic dollars. The park will continue to collaborate with state, tribal, and local partners to improve protection of Montana’s waterways and information sharing to improve the inspection process for boaters.
The park continues its interim assessment of threats posed to park ecosystems by invasive mussels within the state, in accordance with its emergency response plan. In 2018, in cooperation with the Glacier National Park Conservancy and the Flathead Lake Biological Station, the park plans to expand the environmental DNA monitoring beyond invasive mussels to include invasive aquatic weeds such as Eurasian watermilfoil and others. These plant invaders can also degrade the park’s aquatic environment, impacting the natural resources and public recreation. Visitors may see park boats out on lakes in the spring, summer, and fall collecting water samples as part of the park’s aquatic invasive species early detection and monitoring program.
Last year, partnership played an essential role in the park’s ability to respond to significant challenges. In 2018, the park expects that partnership with local, state, federal, and private partners will be increasingly imperative as it continues to respond to high visitation, fire, and changing weather and climate conditions. “This last summer tested us all as a community,” said Acting Park Superintendent Eric Smith*. “We welcomed a tremendous number of visitors to Glacier Country, battled wildfires on our public lands and in local towns, and saw just how generous our little corner of the world can be in the face of adversity. I make no predictions for what 2018 will bring, but am so thankful to have this community to celebrate all that Glacier offers, and to also step in and help the park in times of great need.”
* Note: Superintendent Jeff Mow is currently on a detail assignment as the Acting Deputy Regional Director for the National Park Service Intermountain Region in Denver, CO.