Sun Road plan deserves a closer look

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Twenty years ago, the Going-to-the-Sun Road advisory committee had its first meeting. The committee was formed with a lot of help from Montanaís congressional delegation after the Park Service proposed closing the road for two straight summers (four years total) on either side of the Divide for road reconstruction, a plan that was untenable for many people and businesses outside the park.

The committee, made up of citizens, experts and business owners, eventually came up with a ďshared useĒ plan that allowed traffic to move along the full length of the highway during the busiest parts of the summer season while construction commenced. It wasnít the most efficient way to rebuild the road, but no one went out of business, either.

Fast forward to today and now the Park Service has released the Going-to-the-Sun Road corridor management plan. There are good people working on planning in Glacier National Park, but this plan reads like something that was cobbled together by Washington bureaucrats with little long-range vision and a lot of Band-Aids, that, unfortunately, have longterm consequences for the park.

For example, paving over more of the park, as this plan suggests, isnít going to solve the parking problem.

By the parkís own admission, even if it adds parking, it only increases availability by an hour or so.

Glacier needs a big parking lot and a viable transit plan that both allows visitation and protects the resource.

Hereís my idea: Columbia Falls has several areas that would make an excellent transit facility. For example, the old Columbia Falls Aluminum Co. plant has a very big parking lot that sits empty. Some might say that we canít use that lot ó itís a Superfund site. Well, folks who park there arenít going to eat the dirt or drink the water. Generations of plant workers parked there and many are still around today, right?

If the stigma of a Superfund site is too much to bear, the vacant land off Railroad Street would also make a viable transit facility.

The way I see it, during peak months, the Park Service would institute a reservation system for the Sun Road. Folks who get a permit could drive the road. Folks who didnít, but still want to experience it, would take a shuttle up the road. Thatís where a large, Columbia Falls-based transit center would come in. More than half of the people who visit the park travel through the city anyway.

This system would also give the Park Service the ability to do at least some crowd control.

I fully admit, this idea may never fly. But thatís not the point.

The point is thereís plenty of people with other ideas as well. But the collective community needs time to fully investigate and work on them.

Thatís where Congress comes in. Itís time for Montanaís congressional delegation to step in, just like it did 20 years ago, stop this plan, and fund a committee with the necessary resources to come up with a Sun Road management plan that will actually work, one that benefits the local communities and protects the resource we all hold dear.

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Kudos to the Park Service for plowing the east side roads after the September snowstorm. I thought for sure the Park Service would close them up for winter. Went over there this weekend and the snow was melting rapidly. The trail we hiked had almost no snow on it and places we hiked that had snow in the morning were snow-free by evening.

However, it looks like the east side could get another punch of snow. As I write this, another storm was expected to barrel in on Tuesday. Got to love fall weather.

Chris Peterson is the editor of the Hungry Horse News.

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