Thursday, July 25, 2024

Backcountry eyes and ears

Editor | November 30, 2022 7:55 AM

Last week’s meeting on reservations for Two Medicine and Many Glacier Valleys sure sounded like Glacier has its mind made up — the Thursday meeting at any rate.

When a park official says “we’re looking at managed access pretty much parkwide,” that can certainly be interpreted as it’s a done deal.

I’m not sure that Glacier needs a reservation system over there. Many Glacier? Perhaps at peak hours — say 10 to 3. But Two Medicine is actually down in visitation over last year.

Also, it doesn’t seem like people mind waiting in line.

Full disclosure, my wife runs a vacation rental and plenty of our guests go east if they don’t have a Sun Road reso. But what’s emerged since Glacier did the Sun Road reservation system is that people drive to the east side, go to Two Med or Many, then drive back over the Sun Road from the east side when it opens at 4 p.m. to general traffic.

With a reservation system in place for Two Med and Many, I can see people who don’t have a reservation simply not coming at all.

The Park said Friday it wasn’t a done deal, but the only fly in the ointment that I can see is an obvious and critical one — employees, or lack thereof.

Glacier didn’t have enough employees to man campgrounds and entrance stations last year. In fact, east side folks said the entrance stations at Many Glacier and Two Medicine apparently weren’t manned at all.

Camas Road, it turned out, was empty as well.

The backcountry Belly River Ranger station was fully manned. As it should be. I can only imagine what people would do back there if there wasn’t a couple of rangers keeping an eye on things.

Cut Bank was, rather sadly, empty again. The ranger station has been empty for awhile. This really concerns me. We need rangers in places like this. I’d submit we need them in winter, too.

Cut Bank was closed last spring and early summer because cows had wandered into the Park, couldn’t get out of deep snow, and died.

If a ranger had been there, would this have happened?

I doubt it.

The Park Service, and Glacier in particular, should encourage the ranger-naturalists position. A person who is not only law enforcement, but with a biologist background as well.

Dave Shea was that kind of ranger. He patrolled the Belly River and he wrote the park’s bird list.

It seems to me we need more Dave Sheas in Glacier.

Let me be clear: This is not a criticism of existing staff. It’s just that we need eyes and ears in the backcountry and frontcountry now more than ever.

The Park sent out a press release last week saying it was hiring.

There are 29 job openings.

Not one is a ranger position, at least not in the listings I saw as of Sunday night.

There are plenty of job openings for entrance station workers.

That’s fine, but it’s vitally important that we keep an eye on things once they get through the gates, too.

Perhaps some positions could be volunteer jobs. Seems like there’s plenty of people willing to help out. And there’s a perk — you get into the park without a reservation.