Happy birthday, Glacier NP
When I was younger, I was lucky to visit Glacier National Park in Northern Montana, which today becomes a centenarian. By now, my memories of my family's visit are few, but distinct: Gliding on a boat over the glassine reflections of glacier-shouldered crags; walking a trail past incredibly docile, shaggy mountain goats; seeing an black bear wandering in a meadow, oblivious to us; driving over the border —the only time I've ever been to Canada — to check out the Prince of Wales Hotel, situated on a bluff above aquamarine Waterton Lake.
Trains first opened Glacier's landscape to tourists, of course, but back then, you could only explore the place on foot, horseback or boat. In 1900, the park was made a "Forest Preserve," and on this date, ten years later, President Taft officially made Glacier the country's 10th national park. (Here's a short history.) The park's main thoroughfare — the 50-mile, breathtaking (and hair-raising) Going-to-the-Sun Road — was completed in 1932 after three decades of planning and building, and more than $2 million. (Now, it needs some restoration.) No small investment, but a smart one.
More recently, the news out of Glacier has been that its namesake glaciers are shrinking, a loss not only for the peaks and their ecosystems, but the Montana economy: Tourism in the region of Glacier National Park amounts to over $1 billion a year. Now, the park experiences about 30 fewer days a year during which the temperature slips below freezing. Only 25 or so glaciers of the roughly 150 that existed in the mid-19th century still linger among the granite pyramids. Two more were reported as gone in April. The park's amazing blue waters, the result of "glacial flour," grow darker and darker.
To mark the 100th anniversary of the park's founding, the Missoulian recently asked people "to tell us their wishes for Glacier's second century, their birthday presents to this wild park that has given us a century of priceless gifts." Here are few:
"We hope for all of the glaciers to be able to see the 200th anniversary." - Fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade students, Kalispell Montessori Elementary
"I would send the park four gifts: First, the Working Women of Whitefish singing ‘The hills are alive with the sound of music' from atop Swiftcurrent Lookout; second, a ‘crab-o-meter' to keep all of the crabby visitors away; third, a safety IQ test to be administered at the entrance gate; and fourth, unlimited funding, provided by BP." - Chris Holt, Whitefish resident
"My present would be a westward expansion of Waterton Lakes National Park, and a greater public understanding of the role of Waterton-Glacier together, as both an International Peace Park and a World Heritage Site." - Dave Mihalic, former Glacier Park superintendent
If you've been to Glacier, please, share your wish for the park. If you haven't, share something else. My wish? Like the kids of Kalispell Montessori Elementary (or that other kind of kid, bleating on high), I hope the remaining few glaciers hold tight to their perches, so that I can see them again, with my family.