West Glacier vision plan released for public view
An angler fishes the Miidle Fork of the Flathead at West Glacier.
Editor | March 3, 2021 12:10 AM
A draft vision plan for West Glacier has been released for public review. The plan was developed over the course of more than a year to create a framework for how the gateway to Glacier National Park’s west entrance will look into the future. Organizer Mary McClelland said the idea of the plan is not to be regulatory, but to develop common goals among a wide variety of interests in the small town.
Only about 20% of its residents live there fulltime, the plan notes.
West Glacier is largely defined by its community of businesses that cater to visitors to Glacier National Park, from family-owned raft companies, to corporations like Pursuit, which owns almost all the retail space along the Going-tothe- Sun Road just before one enters the park.
“The goal is to showcase the shared goals,” of the community McClelland said.
It was developed through partial funding from the National Park Service Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program.
The original idea was to meet with stakeholders and have a host of public meetings on the vision plan, but the coronavirus struck and while some meetings were held, not all of them were in person, like so many other things in 2020.
The plan has five main goals: Preserve community character and sense of place; create a safe and resilient community; enhance community communications and participation; support sustainable outdoor recreation opportunities; and provide seamless transportation connections.
Some of the on-theground goals are fairly simple, like sprucing up the underpass at the BNSF Railway tracks. Others would take significant funding, like better bike paths and new street layouts that would “help create an accessible, welcoming, and safe West Glacier Main Street.” The document suggests changing the name of Main Street, which is actually the Going-to-the-Sun Road today, to perhaps something else.
The plan also calls for updating some of the zoning regulations of the Canyon Area Land Use Regulations. “Through amendments, update the 1994 Canyon Plan, a neighborhood plan that focuses on the specific needs of West Glacier and adjacent communities,” is one of the vision goals.
Preserving historic architecture is also a goal.
The plan suggests the community should “create an informal ‘business pledge’ that all businesses can come together around, encouraging support, collaboration and value for preserving the setting.”
Many of the buildings in West Glacier are historic in nature.
The plan also looks at keeping the community safe — particularly from natural disasters such as wildfire.
It calls for creating a communication plan in the event of a wildfire and to do practical exercises, such as, “implement( ing) an annual community emergency preparedness day where the community helps each other with fuel reduction projects, firesafe best practices and evacuation procedures.”
The plan also looks to keep lines of communication open in the community, through e-newsletters and an outdoor public information kiosk at the post office or other public venue.
It also calls for creating a West Glacier community working group, “that prioritizes and focuses work on the actions identified in this plan. This group should include the existing participants but should be expanded to include more people who represent a broader interest in the community of both the residents and businesses. Efforts should be made to engage diverse audiences and a broad range of generations, including new residents.”
The group that made up the vision plan included residents, businesses and the Park Service, among others.
Wildlife is also an important consideration, the plan notes.
“The community needs to decide if it is important to maintain or recover a high level of wildlife diversity by discussing objectives with the Hungry Horse Ranger District and National Park Service – habitats on all these lands are interrelated and affect one another. To achieve these goals, if privately owned land includes important wildlife habitat, a landowner may wish to consider some type of conservation easement to benefit wildlife and to maintain community values. These sites could be identified in the yearly work planning process. The community and the planning board could then help willing and motivated landowners locate possible sources of financial compensation in lieu of development,” the plan states.
West Glacier is surrounded by public lands and wildlife refuges. To the south is the Flathead National Forest and to the north is Glacier National Park. Both of which are well known wildlife havens.
The entire plan is available on the Flathead County planning department website at: https:// flathead.mt.gov/planning_ zoning The draft plan is open for public comment. It will then go before the Flathead County planning board later this year and then onto county commissioners after revisions and input from the public, McClelland noted.