The end of the season here at Glacier National Park signals many changes. The most notable being the lack of people. At its high point, Summer visitation equated to fee station lines out to Route 2, non-existent parking at Logan Pass, and whirlwind shifts at the visitor center. Now most of the concessionaires, raft guides, seasonal park employees, and visitors have left the Crown of the Continent for warmer latitudes, other jobs, or home.
Fires have also become less of a day to day discussion. Most of the fire within the park’s boundaries has been contained or completely extinguished. Weather has been fairly wet in the past weeks, limiting the potential for new fires. This does not mean I don’t wake up every morning expecting the smoke from the large fires in the Pacific Northwest to come wafting down the canyon like a few weeks ago. However, it does mean that the multiple emails a day on the status of each fire have stopped, and normal inbox activity can recommence. (Not to mention a drastic decrease in hearing the ever so frustrating and naïve question “Why don’t the rangers just put the fire out?”)
One of the biggest changes as we welcome the ever so pleasant shoulder season is to weather. Maybe living along the East coast allowed me to become accustomed to prolonged transitions into winter, but the change here was almost shocking. Essentially overnight, we went from unseasonably hot temperatures, to long gray days bolstering a chill autumnal breeze even at the peak of the afternoon. Signaling the fast approaching Montana Winter, I am faced with a strong bitter sweet sentiment. On one hand, I am saddened by the hundreds of trails I have yet to hike and that are already under snow. Although I should not let the snow stop me from hiking the alpine traverses I have studied fervently in guidebooks and online, this change signifies that I will soon need to strap on my crampons, chains, and cross country skis to get into the back country. On the other hand, there is a universal excitement for winter here in headquarters as well as throughout the rest of the Flathead Valley. Although snow means the end of the summer and saying goodbye to the sun for a while, it also means something bigger for the local communities: Ski season. Not only does NW Montana boast some of the most amazing powder runs, it also is home to some of the best backcountry skiing in the lower 48. Backcountry ski and snowboard enthusiasts flock to Montana’s back woods for prime wilderness filled with trackless powder.
The last of notable changes has been a shift in my day to day responsibilities. From June to August, my week (Saturday through Wednesday , interpretation employees have odd days off, in my case this means my weekends are Thursday and Friday)was filled with visitor center shifts, volunteer groups, and planning for the park’s interpretive booth at the NW Montana state fair. As visitation has decreased and school has started, the majority of these responsibilities have disappeared. In lieu of this, I have begun transitioning from the short term demands of high summer to long term planning for the centennial. After sitting down with my supervisor, we decided on a few important projects that I should work on. First after speaking with Glacier’s super intendant Jeff Mow, I determined it was important to sit down and create a master file of all community events that I thought we should be present at. In past years, Glacier National Park has taken a step back from the community. The local area cherishes the park and is aware of its presence and with changes in leadership the importance of interacting with the community out side of the park was put on the back burner. With the centennial however and our success at this years NW Montana State fair (which we had not attended in several years) we hope to attend more events in 2016. My second responsibility for the shoulder season and winter is to propose a bike patrol for the Going to the Sun Road (the only major public road running through the park). During peak visitation this road is dangerous, and its use by bikers is discouraged. However come October, the road becomes closed to cars, opening access to hikers and bikers. It is during this period that the road is often left un-patrolled or patrolled not as often. It is my hope that with a volunteer bike patrol we might be able to aid ranger efforts in answering questions, making repairs, and informing visitors of wild life policies. Many other parks have developed bike patrol programs and have had much success. Lastly, I hope to help with the many scientific surveys that occur during the winter here at Glacier. Pine marten and wolverine studies commence once the winter snow pack has become more permanent up in the alpine regions of the park. Hopefully I will have the time to aid in these efforts. Any chance to get up, get out, and find my park is a great one, especially when it involves rare and ferocious mammals.
Overall, I am excited about all of these changes. Although my summer experience here at Glacier left me in love with the Montana landscape, thirsty for more backcountry adventures, winter signifies a newer more exciting experience. I look forward to cold morning walks to the warm office, evenings and weekends of skiing, and the slow paced life of off season in a national park.
Centennial Volunteer Ambassador @ Glacier National Park