(GLACIER NATIONAL PARK) Hearing the powerful sound of rushing water melting from glaciers on mountains could soon be a thing of the past.
“It very well could be that you come to Glacier National Park and not be able to see a glacier,” explained Amanda Wilson, an assistant at Glacier National Park Visitor Center.
Glacier National Park has been attracting adventure seekers since 1910.
“People come here because they want to see a glacier,” said Wilson.
But those visitors with sights set on seeing a glacier, could be faced with a reality check in the next few decades or so.
“It is actually predicted that our glaciers could be gone by 2030,” Wilson explained.
While climate change is a natural process, the glaciers in therapy have melted and returned four different times in history according, according to Wilson, this time might be different.
“The rate at which the glaciers are receding is very fast,” explained Wilson. “Faster than we have seen in previous ice ages.”
Despite the threat of melting glaciers coming over the nation’s seventh national park, Wilson said, “There is more to the park than the glaciers.”
When visiting Glacier National Park, there are many inspiring sights to see like mountains that stretch beyond 10,000 feet or, hike just a few miles, and see raging rapids.
That sense of amazement has filled Marilyn Siess for decades who strongly believes that words do not do the views justice.
“Awesome is kind of a term we use lightly, and this is awesome,” explained Siess. More than two million people agree with Siess.
2.4 million visitors explored Glacier last year alone, marking another record breaking year for tourists. Those 2.4 million visits brought a combined $269 million to local economies too, bolstering towns like Whitefish, Kalispell and Columbia Falls.
The secret of the park has been exposed to some who may have never thought twice of traveling to Montana.
“With social media, the word is out that this place is a really beautiful place,” said Wilson.
Siess, who has lived in Big Fork for nearly 40 years, said “I have never missed a season coming to Glacier. I love it.”
Not only does Glacier the top must-see lists for locals, but garners some international attention as well.
“Montana was on my bucket list. Last year we celebrated 22 years of marriage and we came here to do that and fell in love with the place,” explained Erika Moore, visiting from Brazil.
With millions of sightseers trekking to the park each year, “Nowadays it means getting up early and beating the crowds,” said Siess. “But it is well worth it.”
Wilson said Glacier National Park is anticipating another record-breaking year for visitors.
“We have hired additional staff to help alleviate congestion in some key areas,” said Wilson. “Some of that congestion can be felt while driving through the park.”
After pulling through the gates, the views are remarkable.
With sweeping views of mountains unlike anything else, “takes your breath away,” explained Moore. But driving through the park was nor always a breeze.
“The Going-To-The-Sun Road is an incredible road,” said Wilson. “A lot of people consider it the highlight of their trip actually, to drive over the Going-To-The-Sun Road.”
After the adrenaline rush subsides while driving the narrow, windy road with one switchback on the side of a mountain and gaining 3,000 feet in elevation, visitors might ask themselves one thing.
“You just have to stop and think, like, ‘how did they build it,’” said Wilson.
Well, constructing the road was not easy.
“It took a lot of blasting. A lot of dynamite was used to build the Going-To-The-Sun Road and a lot of bulldozers and then they used the rock that basically was blasted out of the way to make the foundation for the road,” explained Wilson.
Two decades of blasting and $2 million dollars later, the 50-mile road was completed on July 15, 1933.
For perspective, that $2 million dollars would be equivalent to around $36.6 million in today’s money.
“With that, cars became the main source of transportation to the Park,” Wilson said.
But before the automobile boom had everyone moving through the Park on four wheels, another way of transportation was used.
“Many of the visitors, like actual people coming from outside the area, were coming by train,” explained Wilson.
The Great Northern Railroad was key to the success of the park.
“They marketed Glacier as the Alps of the Americas and put out this campaign to see America first and this was one of the main places that they brought visitors from all over the country,” Wilson said.
Since first designated as a National Park in 1910, the sense of wild landscape draws people in like a magnet.
“It is so wild, you can still go places that you feel ‘like wow, this is really wild,’” explained Siess.
But it is not just alpine lakes and wildflowers keeping people coming back.
“This place is enchanting and people here are so polite and friendly,” Moore said.
Now as the U.S. National Park Service celebrates 100 years of protecting 84 million acres nationwide, some aspects of Glacier have evolved.
“For the last 100 years there have been a lot of different management styles throughout the park’s history,” explained Wilson.
Fish were introduced to the ecosystem so anglers could drop a line in the frigid and clear waters. But the biggest change may be bear management.
“In the early years of the park, bears were a thing people came to see,” said Wilson.
But one night changed everything.
On August 13, 1967, two young women were killed by two separate bears in two separate areas of the park. The night was so gruesome it inspired Jack Olsen to write a book about it in 1995, ‘Night of the Grizzlies.’
“That was really the impetus to changing a lot of the bear management practices in the park,” explained Wilson.
Now, food must never be left unattended, especially while camping. Many campgrounds throughout the park have food storage bins but campers must always be prepared to properly store food items on their own.
“There is a direct correlation between a food reward and bears seeking out people for food,” warned Wilson.
After the surge of visitors leave and all is said and done, “this is their home and we want to make sure we are doing our best to keep them safe,” Wilson said.
Over 700 miles of trails connecting just over a million acres filed with carved lakes and 175 mountains; Glacier, also called the Crown of the Continent, as the 30 mile wide sanctuary sits atop the Rockies.
“The Crown of the Continent itself refers to the general ecosystem that is encompassed both in Glacier and to the North and South,” explained Wilson.
Out of all 175 peaks, there is one that is more special than the rest.
We actually have what is called Triple Divide. So it is one point, called Triple Divide Peak, that water from that one place flows to actually three different watersheds,” said Wilson.
Glacier water flows to the Pacific Ocean, the Arctic by way of the Hudson Bay, and the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.
This unique peak is one of the many reasons why Glacier National Park was created.
“We have to protect these places that are so special because ya know, they don’t make any more of them,” stressed Siess.
One of the many reasons why the National Park Service was ‘America’s Best Idea.’
*Photos were taken during Summer 2015 while three fires burned within the Park; the Thompson Fire in the South central region, Reynolds Creek Fire east of Logan Pass and a blaze in the northwestern area of the Park near North Fork.
Below are some view photos that were submitted from their visits to National Parks! Have photos you’d like to see displayed here? Submit them on social media using #WeExplore, or email me!