Is there another road back?

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Editor’s note: From time to time North Forker Flannery Coats will be writing in Larry Wilson’s stead. They may also co-write columns in the future as well. We hope you enjoy her perspectives...

As we enter a favorite time of year for most North Forkers, I find myself reflecting on another summer gone by in a flash. Most of my summers in the North Fork have been spent welcoming visitors to it. Five years of stuffing bear claws in their faces, a few more showing them how to live off-grid at vacation rentals and most recently as a Park Ranger at the Polebridge Ranger Station, the Primitive Northwest entrance to Glacier National Park. Yeah, you know, the one 35 miles up a bumpy dirt road from Columbia Falls, especially that last mile between the Merc and the ranger station. That one leaves memories for many. Karen won’t even deliver mail on it half the year at the request of her suspension.

That’s one thing that hasn’t changed over the last 10 years I’ve been here. In fact, some of us might argue that most of the road has been in pretty good shape the last few. Yet, the number of first-time visitors that show up wide-eyes and confused having finally arrived at something, somewhere with someone to ask the burning question in their minds the last half of the journey up the North Fork, “Is there another road back?” or “So, it’s paved from here, right?” is still astonishing. What, with social media exploiting special places all over the world, it seem that the never-changing road conditions of the North Fork would have been a part of that post.

One specific phenomena of the summer of 2019 was brought to us courtesy of Google Maps. Many, and I mean a lot, daily, of innocent and ambitious tourists staying in the Flathead would wake up early, as recommended if you want a parking spot anywhere in Glacier, type “Going-to-the-Sun-Road or “Glacier National Park” into their phones or rental car GPS units and obey its commands faithfully. Even as civilization became a mirage in the rear-view mirror and the bars on the phone faded and the road deteriorated into something more of a wagon trail. No signs of the Weeping Wall or that famed road. No signs at all, really. But Siri says.

Can you imagine the amount of shock and disappointment we delivered daily out of that tiny Ranger Station window? A vehicle would pull up to the window with a car-filled sigh of relief, pull out their park passes or fees and ask, “So how much longer to Logan Pass?” The urge to crawl out of that window and sever the umbilical cord from human to device was hard to subdue. That’s when I opted for the dramatics of the trusty highlighter and a large map, illustrating tools of an ancient society. Truthfully, though, it had been some years since I manipulated a highlighter. It made for a good show. As some visitors got oriented and reconfigured, more came. And so went the summer.

Visitor interactions in my time here have been many things. From witnessing emotional self-transformations under the shadow of Rainbow Peak to enduring the rage and fury at the lack of “civilization.” Also, Bowman Lake is FULL. I hate that interaction, especially with locals. All-in-all, we are all lucky to be alive and those of us that realize how lucky we are found this place in a valley surrounded by public land and filled with critters and clean water and, most of the year, not too many humans. Let’s go ahead and keep that realization to ourselves. Hopefully, Siri will get her directions figured out by 2020.

What do you think?

— Flannery Coats

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