After being surprised at finding several locals opposed to reopening the Inside North Fork Road in Glacier Park, I decided maybe we all need more information about the road. My research included Park comments at Interlocal meetings, old interviews with North Fork Old Timers and a great summary which appeared in the Flathead Beacon by Tristan Scott.
The Inside Road is the oldest road in what is now Glacier National Park. It was built in 1901, nine years before Glacier Park was established. It was financed by Marcus Daly to promote oil exploration in the Kintla Lake area. Later it was extended to the International Border. Pioneering the road project was led by Patrick Walsh who homesteaded near Columbia Falls and his son, John Walsh, homesteaded in Big Prairie.
The original Patrick Walsh has a grandson, Pat Walsh, who today lives on his grandfather’s homestead and is improving and maintaining his uncle john’s North Fork house.
By 1905 the oil exploration was over, but the steam boiler that was used at the head of Lower Kintla Lake was left behind and is rusting in the water to this very day. Another exploratory well drilled near the mouth of Kintla Creek apparently was completely removed.
From 1905 until well after the establishment of Glacier Park in 1910, the only roadwork was done by locals. In fact, until 1940 the road was little more than a track through the woods and various superintendents repeated claims that the road was “practically impossible for automobiles to get over.”
Apparently the road from Kishenehn Ranger Station to the border was abandoned before World War II. In 1948 a large chunk of the road washed out just north of Starvation Creek and never reopened. Today, Kishenehn cabin is mostly unused and can only be reached on foot or by horseback and the northern end of the Insider Road provides access to Kintla Lake.
Today you can access the Inside Road at Polebridge and go north to Bowman and Kintla lakes and south to Logging Creek to trails to Logging and Quartz lakes, You can also visit Hidden Meadow, where John an Ann Slifer created a lake to “hide” the meadow.
You can also start at Fish Creek on Lake McDonald and drive north to Camas Creek, where the road is gated.
All of the remaining Inside Road is rough, narrow, with sharp curves and few turnouts. Even if it is reopened, I cannot imagine the Park improving it much. Even when open I have never heard of many accidents — and never a serious one. Those do occur on the main North Fork Road.
I am convinced that opponents want the road closed for their exclusive use as a hiking/biking path. If hikers and bikers were banned from the North Fork Road you could hear their protests in Washington, D.C. As for me, I just want this “oldest in the Park” road kept open as an historical monument.
What do you think?
Larry Wilson’s North Fork Views appears weekly in the Hungry Horse News.