As usual, the Summer Interlocal was preceded by the annual Firewise Education effort to inform locals on fire risk and how to best protect themselves and their property. Also, as usual, it was an excellent presentation and the Fire Mitigation Committee, especially co-chairs Molly Shepherd and Allen Chrisman, deserve our thanks.
The noon lunch was good too. The main course was provided by the North Fork Preservation Association and supplemented by residents bringing side dishes and desserts.
From my perspective the Interlocal meeting itself was fairly ho-hum. Local groups, as usual, merely outlined their history or their current activities. Little time was spent voicing local concerns.
Information from the agencies was somewhat more informative. Information from Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, and reports on bears and the moose population, are always welcome. Likewise, that FWP is looking at the decline of mule deer.
On the other hand, Forest Service information was pretty much unchanged from previous years. They are working on the revised River Plan but arenít taking any action to deal with the need for toilet facilities or more campgrounds. Forest roads and trails have less and less money and thus they are doing less and less. Fortunately, the North Fork Trails Association and others have volunteered to help with trails, reducing the Forest Service to a mostly advisory role.
Same thing with Glacier Park. Reduced budgets, or at least inadequate budgets, have resulted in more and more problems as visitation has increased. Local staff have scrambled to adjust with only minimal success. The entrance at West Glacier remains an ever worsening bottleneck. Parking at Logan Pass and along the entire Going to the Sun corridor is non-existent after 9 a.m. and even Kintla and Bowman Lake campgrounds and parking lots have daily overloads.
Neither the Forest Service or the Park have plans or money to expand visitor facilities. At some point, there will be only two choices. Limit access or institute periodic closures. I can only imagine someone from Florida applying for a reservation at Fish Creek Campground six months in advance. That is already the case for Forest Service rental cabins.
Instead of expanding visitor accommodations, both the Forest and the Park have been forced to close campgrounds, roads and trails, which only compounds the overcrowding.
Only positive has been Flathead County, Glacier Park, Forest Service, Border Patrol combining to receive a $2.2 million grant to improve the Upper North Fork Road and access to Glacier Park from Polebridge. If folks are already being turned back from accessing Kintla and Bowman Lakes, why improve the road? More parking and more campgrounds might be more helpful.
What do you think? Let me know at Box 3, Columbia Falls, MT, 59912.
Larry Wilsonís North Fork Views appears weekly in the Hungry Horse News.