On a cold morning late last month, mason Alex Gladstone heated a new stone headwall on the Going-to-the-Sun Road with a propane torch.
The heat on the stone makes it easier for masons to put small chips in the big rock, giving it a weathered and aged look. The masons from Anderson Masonry out of Bigfork have a long relationship with the highway. As subcontractors on the massive highway project, they’ve been laying stone walls for a decade now.
Now, the end of the journey is almost near. On this day, they’re working on a the headwall to a 4-foot box culvert at mile marker 5.5 of the road.
The culvert, and another one about 200 feet down the road, were put in earlier this fall to drain an idyllic, but problem stream that has been flooding the highway on an almost annual basis when Glacier Park sees high water.
The stonework is known as a modified Ashlar Bond, Gladstone explained.
The stones are laid in such a way to give the corners strength and resiliency. In short, it’s made to last a long time.
Gladstone and mason Mike Bercier have oft appeared in the Hungry Horse News over the years.
Bercier said he started working in stone at age 14, Gladstone even longer.
“My old man had me laying brick when I was 2-year-old,” Gladstone half joked. He’s been a mason since 1976.
They both agree, with simple nods of the head, that’s it’s nice to drive the road and see the work they’ve done over the years — from the massive wall at Triple Arches to intricate work below grade that virtually no one will ever see.
The stone work at mile marker 5.5 will get some appreciation — a new turnout is planned above one culvert, so visitors can stop and get a view of Lake McDonald and go down to the shoreline if they want.
The Park is also making other improvements in what is the last stage of a 10-year contract to overhaul the historic highway. The $9 million final stage focuses on the road from Apgar to Avalanche Creek. General contractor HK Construction has improved all of the turnouts along the way. The Apgar curve from the T intersection just inside the Park intersection to the foot of Lake McDonald and been dug out and re-filled with stable gravel.
The old road bed was made up of fine silt and was shifting both horizontally and vertically, noted federal Highway Administration senior resident engineer Chris Rossmiller. Rossmiller, like the masons, has been working on the road project for the past 10 years as well.
The Apgar curve will be finished up next spring. The masonry work should finish this fall yet, Rossmiller said.
In addition to the roadwork, a new pit toilet has been installed in a turnout just before Avalanche Creek. The road into the campground will be improved and widened — it’s only about 15 feet wide now, Rossmiller said.
Subcontractor Valley Fence was finishing building a new pedestrian bridge over Avalanche Creek. The bridge will connect the Trail of the Cedars boardwalk loop, the hope is that it will cut down on pedestrian traffic on the highway bridge.
The boardwalk will be finished next spring by Glacier Park trail crews, Rossmiller noted.
The entire project should wrap up next spring. The next big highway project on the horizon is the Many Glacier Road. Work could start on that in a couple of years.