Trail Rehabilitation – helping visitors experience Glacier to the fullest
Glacier National Park has over 700 miles of trails. This represents a perfect opportunity for all levels of hikers to enjoy Glacier’s one million acres. Unfortunately, harsh weather conditions and visitors have a defining impact on this incredibly fragile environment and represent a tremendous challenge to keeping these trails safe and functional for a great visitor experience. Trails maintenance continues to be a high priority of the Fund. We feel strongly that we must work with park management to keep trails open and safe for millions of annual visitors. Each year specific trail projects are funded by the Glacier National Park Conservancy, but the long term goal is to create a trails endowment program. In addition, we have focused on making some trails more accessible to the handicapped, families with strollers and the elderly with walkers. Accessible trails will allow these folks to see more of the wonderful areas of the park.
EXPERIENCING Glacier by car is great but experiencing Glacier on a trail can be life changing. The deep bond that people develop with Glacier happens when they get out of their vehicles and truly experience all that Glacier has to offer. A few of the current trail rehabilitation projects include:
• Continue the accessible trail project in the Many Glacier area as well as explore the idea of a possible accessible trail in the Lake McDonald area.
• Create an accessible trail between the Rising Sun Picnic area and the Rising Sun Boat dock – both of which are very popular stops along the GTS road. The trail between them runs fairly level along the shore of St Mary Lake through aspen, cottonwood and Douglas fir. The trail is also directly across the road from Rising Sun Lodge and Campground. This beautiful stroll lends itself well to an upgrade in accessibility and could possibly be made fully accessible at a future date.
• Complete the rebuild of the Hidden Lake Trail Boardwalk. Thousands of folks each year stand and gaze at the remarkable scenery from this well placed structure. The boardwalk provides a stable area to photograph and view from, as well as protecting the sensitive alpine area from trampling.
• Establish an “adopt a trail” program that will not only help the park maintain the over 700 miles of trails that currently need annual attention but will also create an endowment that would help maintain those trails. This program would seek ways to open and maintain trails that have been abandoned in the past as well as support other back country shelters, food lockers and campgrounds that enhance the visitor experience.
• Repair soil erosion and vegetation loss along the margins of the abundant riparian environments of Kootenai Lakes Backcountry Campground - which has reached critical levels. This wilderness campground is a relatively easy hike from the Goathaunt Ranger Station and is a very popular destination for national as well as international visitors to Glacier National Park. Kootenai Lakes Campground is renowned for its resident moose populations and on any given day the chances of observing moose are excellent. This ease of accessibility and intriguing mega fauna has lead to uncontrolled pedestrian travel along riparian areas. This high level of visitation has resulted in “lake margin” and river bank instability – which is especially evident in areas along the river, where uncontrolled travel down to the water has resulted in complete vegetation loss and extensive gully and rill erosion - with large chunks of bare soil dropping off into the river below. A maze of unofficial “social trails” throughout the area, especially along the shorelines and between campground features, has resulted in a much compromised landscape. All of these trails cause a great deal of confusion for the visitor. Off-trail travel, greatly expanded and impacted camping sites, the food preparation area and an extremely trampled “day-use area” has resulted in on half acre of severely denuded ground at this popular destination. High levels of use, high visibility and high levels of impact require that we implement a restoration strategy to repair damaged resources, restore native plant communities, define preferred travel routes and develop a program of visitor education that reduces continued impacts.