Glacier Park eases boat ban; will allow non-trailered, hand-propelled watercraft this summer

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Kayakers head out on Lake McDonald for a winter excursion in this file photo.

Glacier National Park is easing its boat ban as spring approaches, but no private motorized boats will be allowed on Park waters this year.

Hand-propelled, non-trailered watercraft including kayaks, canoes and paddleboards will be permitted in Glacier National Park with mandatory inspection beginning May 15 for Lake McDonald and the North Fork, and June 1 for all remaining areas of the park, Park officials said Friday.

Launching any sort of boat on a Glacier lake right now isn’t even feasible — they’re all frozen over.

Last November Glacier Park waters were closed to all boating as a precaution after invasive species of non-native mussels were detected in two popular Montana reservoirs — Tiber and Canyon Ferry — east of the park. These non-native mollusks reproduce quickly and can wreak havoc with lake environments and infrastructure.

Hand-powered boat users will be required to have their craft certified mussel-free by Glacier staff under a new inspection program. Inspection stations will be located on the west side of the park in Apgar Village, and the east side of the park at Two Medicine, St. Mary and Many Glacier ranger stations. Local users who live in more remote locations will be directed to the nearest ranger station for inspection.

This is a change from last season, when hand-propelled watercraft required visitors to complete an aquatic invasive species-free self-certification form before launching into Glacier’s lakes.

Privately owned motorized and trailered watercraft brought into the park will not be allowed to operate on Glacier’s waters this summer. The only motorized watercraft allowed in the park this year will be the concession tour boats and concession motorboat rentals. These are boats that remain in the park year-round and have not been and will not be launched on bodies of water elsewhere, The Park said.

“We are continuing to evaluate the emerging threat of aquatic invasive mussels to Glacier’s lakes and streams,” Glacier Park Superintendent Jeff Mow said in a press release. “To prepare for lake recreation after the spring thaw, we are implementing a rigorous inspection process for human-powered boats, which have a lower risk of transporting these harmful mussels. This will allow many out of town visitors and local residents to continue enjoying this very popular activity in the park.”

The penalty for non-compliance are a maximum six months in jail and $5,000 fine, but the severity of the charge is up to the ranger and the circumstances.

Hand-propelled watercraft aren’t typically left on the water for extended periods of time and lack the bilges, complex engines, live wells and other common features of motorized boats that can harbor live invasive species, Mow said.

He noted the Park could, in the future, allow private motorized craft, but right now it doesn’t have the funding for the necessary decontamination stations. He said the Park will undergo testing in cooperation with the Flathead Lake Biological Station all this summer, including eDNA testing, which can tell if mussels are already in the lakes.

Glacier sits at the headwaters of three continental scale watersheds that drain into the Pacific Ocean, Hudson’s Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Contamination of park waters by invasive mussels would mean not only devastating effects on the park’s aquatic ecosystem, but also detrimental impacts downstream.

It is estimated that if the infestation were to spread into the Columbia River Basin, affected states and provinces would be expending hundreds of millions of dollars annually to mitigate the impacts to infrastructure such as irrigation canals, hydroelectric dams and utility systems.

The park is coordinating its response to the discovery of invasive mussels in the state with Montana’s Mussel Response team, the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council, Waterton Lakes National Park, the Flathead Basin Commission, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe, the province of Alberta, the city of Whitefish and all the states downstream on the Columbia River.

With additional funding in 2017 through the Glacier National Park Conservancy and a match from the National Park Service centennial program, the goal is to provide additional capacity for inspections in more remote locations.

For more information about boating procedures, location of inspection stations in the park, and hours of operation, please see: www.nps.gov/glac. For information about the statewide response see http://musselresponse.mt.gov/.

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