During my 72-plus years on the North Fork, there have always been tourists. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, there were basically three tourist attractions, Kintla Guest Ranch, which focused on fishing in the river, McFarlands Quarter Circle MC, a traditional dude ranch with a “cowboy” motif, and Frank Evans Panorama Ranch, which outfitted hiking tours of Glacier Park. Guests at all three were mostly out of sight of most North Forkers except for monthly square dances, which were held alternating between Kintla Ranch and McFarlands, since each had a lodge which could accommodate multiple squares and the entire North Fork was invited.
Of course, Kintla Lake and Bowman Lake had campgrounds, but they were small and seldom filled. I can remember Kalispell locals who would bring small camp trailers to Kintla Lake in the spring and leave them there for into the summer for weekend outings. In those days, we could take horses into the park anytime, rarely see anyone on the trails, and camp wherever we wanted. And, yes, there were no real restrictions on campfires for cooking or just sitting around telling scary stories. Grizzly bears were a common scary topic, but were seldom seen. My first was at the Holcomb Homestead in 1991, 43 years after I became a North Forker.
No more! Tourists are a big topic and seem to be everywhere in increasing numbers every year. Kintla and Bowman campgrounds are often full and tourists are often turned away at the Polebridge entry station along with others whose GPS sent them there by mistake.
Worst of all are the floaters. Parking areas at the Border and Ford Stations are often full to capacity. Biggest problem is traffic with rigs pulling boat trailers too fast for road conditions and recreationalists camping on private land adjacent to the river. It is illegal to camp along the river in Glacier National Park and the only camp areas on the National Forest sides are at Ford or south of Polebridge, although it is legal to camp on the National Forest except along the river south of the bridge at Polebridge.
Obviously, we have been discovered. Increasing numbers of recreationalists threaten our lifestyle and I am afraid our natural environment.
Twenty years ago, I wrote a column voicing my fear that we could love our special place to death. I am more fearful today.
Our natural resource agencies have done nothing to expand infrastructure – in fact, road closures, campground closures and declining trail maintenance budgets have made the problem worse.
I have not seen any agency address the need for law enforcement on the North Fork Road and since the “dust deputy” was cancelled, we rarely see any law enforcement except for Border Patrol, and that is just when you meet them on the road.
Maybe it is time to limit public access? It is past time to provide law enforcement on the road.
What do you think?
Larry Wilson’s North Fork Views appears weekly in the Hungry Horse News.