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All About Glacier National Park

Glacier Park History

Native Americans originally arrived in the Glacier area some 10,000 years ago according to archeological findings. The Flathead (Salish) and Kootenai, Shoshone, and Cheyenne were the first occupiers with a bloodline to present tribes. The Blackfeet lived on the eastern slopes of what would later become Glacier National Park, as well as the Great Plains to the east. The Blackfeet were able to supplement their customary bison hunts with other animal meat thanks to the park’s protection from the strong winter winds of the plains. The park is currently bordered on the east by the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, and on the west and south by the Flathead National Forest.

glacier national park - Glacier

The Lame Bull Treaty established the Blackfeet Reservation in 1855, which covered the eastern portion of the current park up to the Continental Divide. The mountains in this area were considered the “Backbone of the World” by the Blackfeet, especially Chief Mountain and the region to the southeast. Chief White Calf of the Blackfeet authorized the sale of the mountain area, totalling 800,000 acres, to the United States government for $1.5 million in 1895, with the understanding that they would retain hunting rights to the territory as long as the ceded stripe remained US public land. The current boundary between the park and the reservation was established as a result of this agreement.

In 1806, the Lewis and Clark Expedition moved within 50 miles of the park’s current location while exploring the Marias River. After 1850, a series of explorations aided in the formation of the park’s boundaries. In 1885, George Bird Grinnell engaged James Willard Schultz, a prominent explorer (and later well-regarded novelist), to accompany him on a hunting journey into what would become the park. Grinnell was so moved by the scenery that he spent the next two decades striving to build a national park. In a description of the region published in 1901, Grinnell referred to it as the “Crown of the Continent.” His attempts to preserve the property made him the most prominent supporter of the cause. In 1892, Henry L. Stimson and two companions, including a Blackfoot, ascended the steep east face of Chief Mountain, just a few years after Grinnell’s first visit.

The Great Northern Railway crossed the Continental Divide at Marias Pass (5,213 feet above sea level) in 1891, running along the park’s southern perimeter. The Great Northern soon highlighted the region’s splendors to the public in order to encourage people to use the railroad. The corporation lobbied the US Congress and the park was declared as a woodland preserve in 1897.

Mining was still permitted under the forest designation, but it was not profitable. Meanwhile, proponents of the region’s preservation continued their efforts. Under the influence of the Boone and Crockett Club, simultaneously pushed by George Bird Grinnell and Louis W. Hill (president of the Great Northern Railroad), a bill was introduced in the United States Congress in 1910 that established the territory as a national park, signed into law by President William Howard Taft.

Fremont Nathan Haines, the forest reserve supervisor, served as the park’s first interim superintendent from May to August 1910. William Logan was named the park’s first official superintendent in August 1910. While the Blackfeet’s customary use rights were verified by the forest reserve designation, the national park’s enabling law did not include any safeguards for Native Americans. The US government claimed that by designating the mountains as a National Park, the mountains relinquished their multi-purpose public land status and the old rights vanished, confirmed in 1935 by the Court of Claims. Some Blackfeet strongly believe their traditional use rights are still in force.

The Great Northern Railway, under the direction of president Louis W. Hill, constructed a number of hotels and chalets throughout the park to encourage visitors. The Glacier Park Company, a Great Northern subsidiary, built and operated these structures in the style of Swiss architecture as part of Hill’s intention to present Glacier as “America’s Switzerland.” Hill was particularly interested in bringing artists to the park and constructing visitor cottages that showcased their work. His hotels throughout the park never made a profit, but they drew hundreds of guests by train.

Vacationers frequently rode their horses between the lodges on pack trips or used the seasonal stagecoach routes to reach the Many Glacier districts in the northeast.

Belton, St. Mary, Going-to-the-Sun, Many Glacier, Two Medicine, Sperry, Granite Park, Cut Bank, and Gunsight Lake were among the chalets erected between 1910 and 1913. The railway also built the Glacier Park Lodge on the park’s east side and the Many Glacier Hotel on Swiftcurrent Lake’s east bank. Louis Hill hand-picked the locations for all these structures, selecting them for their stunning scenic settings and perspectives. In 1913–1914, another entrepreneur, John Lewis, constructed the Lewis Glacier Hotel on Lake McDonald.

In 1930, the Great Northern Railway purchased the hotel which was later renamed Lake McDonald Lodge. Some of the chalets were located in distant wilderness areas that could only be reached by trail. Only Sperry, Granite Park, and Belton Chalets are still open today, while Two Medicine Store has taken over a structure that once belonged to Two Medicine Chalet.

lake mcdonald lodge - Glacier

The park’s surviving chalet and hotel structures have been classified as National Historic Landmarks. Ranger stations, backcountry patrol cabins, fire lookouts, and concession facilities are among the 350 buildings and structures on the National Register of Historic Places inside the park. The Sprague Fire in 2017 forced Sperry Chalet to close early for the season, destroying the entire interior of the chalet and leaving just the stone facade remaining. The chalet was forced to close indefinitely due to deterioration, but the external stonework was stabilized in the fall of 2017 and the reconstruction was slated to take place over the summers of 2018 and 2019. Sperry Chalet was back in full use for summer 2020.

Work of the 53-mile long Going-to-the-Sun Road began after the park was well established and visitors began to rely more on automobiles. It was completed in 1932. The Going-to-the-Sun Road is the only highway that stretches such a distance, crossing the Continental Divide at Logan Pass, (6,646 feet above sea level) 32 miles from West Glacier. The Sun Road is also a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

US Route 2 runs along the park’s southern border with the National Forests, crossing the Continental Divide at Marias Pass and connecting the villages of West Glacier and East Glacier.

Between 1933 and 1942, the Civilian Conservation Corps, a relief organization for young men, was instrumental in the development of both Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks. Reforestation, campsite development, path construction, fire hazard reduction, and firefighting work were among the CCC’s projects. During the 1930s, the park’s increased motor vehicle traffic necessitated the development of new concession facilities at Swiftcurrent and Rising Sun, both geared toward automobile-based tourism. These early car campgrounds are now on the National Register of Historic Places.

Glacier Park Geography

Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta and the Flathead Provincial Forest and Akamina-Kishinena Provincial Park in British Columbia, border the park on the north. The Flathead River’s North Fork serves as the western boundary, while its Middle Fork and Bear Creek serve as most of the southern boundary. The majority of the eastern boundary is provided by the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. The southern and western boundaries are formed by the Lewis and Clark and Flathead National Forests. In the two woods immediately to the south, the remote Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex is found.

Although there are over 700 lakes in the park, only 131 have been named as of 2016. Lake McDonald, on the park’s western edge, is the park’s longest (10 miles), largest (6,823 acres), and deepest (464 feet).

lake mcdonald - Glacier

In the cirques caused by glacial erosion, there are numerous smaller lakes known as tarns. Avalanche Lake and Cracker Lake, for example, are tinted an opaque blue by suspended glacier silt, which also turns a number of streams milky white.

avalanche lake - Glacier

Glacier National Park lakes are chilly all year, with surface temperatures rarely exceeding 50 degrees Fahrenheit. These cold-water lakes sustain very minimal plankton growth, resulting in extraordinarily clean-lake waters. The lack of plankton, on the other hand, slows the rate of pollution filtration, causing toxins to remain longer. As a result, the lakes are regarded as environmental bellwethers, as even slight increases in pollution can have a significant impact.

Throughout the park, there are roughly 200 waterfalls. Many of these, however, are reduced to a trickle during the dry months of the year. Those in the Two Medicine region, McDonald Falls in the McDonald Valley, and Swiftcurrent Falls in the Many Glacier area, which is plainly visible from the Many Glacier Hotel, are among the greatest falls. Bird Woman Falls, which drops 492 feet from a hanging valley beneath Mount Oberlin’s north side, is one of the tallest waterfalls.

mcdonald falls - Glacier
swiftcurrent falls - Glacier
bird woman falls - Glacier

Glacier Park Geology

The Belt Supergroup sedimentary rocks are the most common rocks found in the park. Over 1.6 billion to 800 million years ago, they were deposited in shallow oceans. One section of rocks known as the Lewis Overthrust was driven 50 miles eastward during the development of the Rocky Mountains 170 million years ago. This overthrust was hundreds of miles long and several miles thick. Older rocks were shifted over newer ones as a result, and the underlying Proterozoic rocks are 1.4 to 1.5 billion years older than the Cretaceous age rocks they now sit on.

Chief Mountain, an isolated peak on the park’s eastern border that rises 2,500 feet above the Great Plains, is one of the most spectacular examples of this overthrust. The park has six mountains that are over 10,000 feet in elevation, the largest of which is Mount Cleveland at 10,466 feet. The Pacific Ocean, Hudson Bay, and Gulf of Mexico watersheds are all served by the appropriately named Triple Divide Peak. Although this mountain is only 8,020 feet above sea level, it can easily be called the summit of the North American continent.

Glacier National Park has some of the best-preserved Proterozoic sedimentary rocks in the world. Mountain construction and other metamorphic changes have dramatically altered sedimentary strata of similar age in other locations, making fossils less plentiful and more difficult to observe. Millimeter-scale lamination, ripple lines, mud fissures, salt-crystal casts, raindrop impressions, oolites, and other sedimentary bedding characteristics are preserved in the park’s rocks. Six fossilized species of stromatolites –  early organisms predominantly made up of blue-green algae – have been identified and dated to be around 1 billion years old.

The Appekunny Formation, a well-preserved rock layer discovered in the park, pushed back the conventional chronology for the genesis of animal life by a billion years. The bedding structures in this rock formation are thought to be the remains of the earliest known metazoan (animal) life on Earth.

The Glaciers

Glacier National Park is characterized by the massive glaciers that shaped the mountains during the last ice age. Over the last 12,000 years, these glaciers have vanished. U-shaped valleys, cirques, arêtes, and enormous outflow lakes stretching like fingers from the base of the tallest peaks are all evidence of widespread glacial action in the area. Various warming and cooling patterns have occurred since the end of the ice ages. The most recent cooling trend occurred during the Little Ice Age, which lasted roughly from 1550 to 1850. All the glaciers in the park today were formed during this period.

jackson glacier - Glacier

Examining maps and images from the previous century in the mid-twentieth century revealed that the 150 glaciers that had been known to exist in the park a century before had substantially receded, and in some cases had vanished entirely.

Glacier Park Wildlife

With the exception of bison and woodland caribou, virtually all historically known plant and animal species are still extant, providing researchers with an entire environment for plant and animal research.

bison - Glacier

The park is home to two threatened mammal species: the grizzly bear and the lynx. Despite the fact that their populations are at historical levels, both are designated as threatened because they are either exceedingly rare or absent from their historical range in practically every other part of the United States outside of Alaska.

Each year, one or two bear assaults on humans are reported. Since 1971, there have been 11 bear-related deaths and 20 non-fatal injuries. The actual number of grizzlies and lynx in the park is unclear; however, in 2021, the park’s first-ever scientific study of the lynx population was conducted. The information gathered will aid researchers in determining the number of individual lynx that live in specific sections of the park.

According to reports from state and federal resource agencies like the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, the grizzly population in and around Glacier Park has risen to around 1,051 as of 2021, more than tripling from the 300 or so population estimates in 1975 when grizzlies were first listed as a threatened species. While exact population counts for grizzlies and the smaller black bear are still unclear, biologists have used a variety of ways to improve the accuracy of population range estimates.

grizzly - Glacier
black bear - Glacier

Another study found that the park is home to the wolverine, another extremely rare species in the lower 48 states. Mountain goats (the park’s official symbol), bighorn sheep, moose, elk, mule deer, skunk, white-tailed deer, bobcat, coyote, and cougar are all abundant or common wildlife. Unlike Yellowstone National Park, which began a wolf reintroduction campaign in the 1990s, Glacier National Park is thought to have recolonized organically during the 1980s. The badger, river otter, porcupine, mink, marten, fisher, two species of marmots, six species of bats, and a variety of other small animals have all been identified.

mountain goat - Glacier
bighorn - Glacier
moose cow - Glacier
moose bull - Glacier
elk cow - Glacier
mule deer - Glacier
whitetail - Glacier
marmot - Glacier

Over 260 bird species have been identified, including raptors such as the bald eagle, golden eagle, peregrine falcon, osprey, and numerous kinds of hawks that live there all year. The harlequin duck is a beautiful bird that can be found in lakes and rivers. Waterfowl species that are more typically seen in the park include the great blue heron, trumpeter swan, Canada goose, and American wigeon. In the deep forests along the mountainsides, great horned owls, Clark’s nutcrackers, Steller’s jays, pileated woodpeckers, and cedar waxwings can be seen, while at higher elevations, ptarmigans, timberline sparrows, and rose finches are the most common birds. Due to the fall in the amount of whitebark pines, the Clark’s nutcracker is less common than in previous years.

osprey - Glacier
blue heron - Glacier
trumpeter swan - Glacier
canada goose - Glacier
great horned owl - Glacier
steller jay - Glacier
pileated woodpecker - Glacier

Ectothermic reptiles are almost non-existent due to the cooler environment, with two kinds of garter snake and the western painted turtle being the only three reptile species known to exist. Similarly, just six amphibian species have been identified, despite their widespread distribution. Following a forest fire in 2001, a few park roads were blocked for almost a year to allow thousands of western toadS to migrate to other sites.

toad - Glacier

The park’s waters are home to a total of 23 fish species, including native game fish such as westslope cutthroat trout, northern pike, mountain whitefish, kokanee salmon, and Arctic grayling. The threatened bull trout, which is forbidden to possess and must be returned to the lake if caught accidently, can also be found in Glacier Park. Lake trout and other non-native fish species introduced in past decades have had a significant influence on some native fish populations, particularly bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout.

Glacier Park Fishing

The following areas are closed to fishing:

  • Kintla Creek between Kintla Lake and Upper Kintla Lake
  • Upper Kintla Lake
  • Akokala Lake
  • Bowman Creek above Bowman Lake
  • Logging Creek between Logging Lake and Grace Lake
  • Cracker Lake
  • Slide Lake and the impounded pond below the lake
  • The following creeks are closed for their entire length: Ole, Park, Muir, Coal, Nyack, Fish, Lee, Otatso, Boulder, and Kennedy Creeks
  • North Fork of the Belly River
  • North Fork of the Flathead River within 200 yards of the mouth of Big Creek

Inside the park’s boundaries, no fishing license is required, however keep in mind that no bull trout may be kept. Any fish caught inadvertently must be handled with care and released as soon as possible. Before handling fish, wet your hands with water from the lake, river, or stream.

The standard fishing season for most waters in the park is from the third Saturday in May through November 30, with the following exceptions:

  • Lake fishing is open all year in the park
  • Waterton Lake season and catch and possession limits are the same as set by Canada, check Canadian regulations before fishing these waters
  • Lower Two Medicine Lake season and catch and possession limits are set by the Blackfeet Nation, check Blackfeet Tribal regulations
  • North Fork of the Flathead River catch and possession limits, as well as methods of take, are the same as those set by Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks – however, no state fishing license is required when fishing the North Fork from park lands
  • When fishing the Middle Fork of the Flathead River from park lands or bridges, a Montana fishing license is required, and state regulations are applicable
  • Hidden Lake outlet creek and an area extending into Hidden Lake for a radius of 300 feet are closed to fishing during the cutthroat spawning season (usually the majority of July) to protect spawning cutthroat trout, and to reduce the potential for negative human interactions with feeding bears
  • From May 1 through June 15, an area extending 400 yards from shore between the Bowman Lake Ranger Station and the outlet of Bowman Lake is closed to fishing to protect spawning westslope cutthroat trout

All native fish caught must be released. There is no daily catch or possession limit on non-native fish species in the park.

Native fish such as bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout can be distinguished from other species in a number of ways:

  • Cutthroat trout have a characteristic red “slash” under their lower jaw
  • Bull trout have pink or orange spots on their sides with pale yellow spots on their backs
  • Lake trout have a deeply forked tail and numerous white (light) markings on their body with no pink or orange spots on their sides
  • Brook trout have black markings on their back and dorsal fins along with red or orange spots surrounded by blue halos on their sides

Glacier Park Vegetation

Glacier is part of a massive habitat known as the “Crown of the Continent Ecosystem” which is mostly undisturbed wilderness of exceptional beauty. Almost all plants and animals that existed when European explorers first arrived in the area are still present in the park today.

A total of 1,132 plant species have been found across the park. Various tree species such as the Engelmann spruce, Douglas fir, subalpine fir, limber pine, and western larch (a deciduous conifer) can be found in the primarily coniferous forest. The more frequent deciduous trees are cottonwood and aspen, found at lower elevations, usually around lakes and streams. Due to exposure to the colder winds and weather of the Great Plains, the timberline on the eastern side of the park is over 800 feet lower than on the western side of the Continental Divide. The forest receives more rainfall and is better protected from the winter west of the Continental Divide, resulting in a more densely populated forest with higher trees. Alpine tundra conditions prevail above the forested valleys and mountain slopes, with grasses and tiny plants eking out a living in a location with as little as three months of no snow cover. Roughly thirty plant species can be found in the park and the adjoining national forests. Beargrass is a tall blooming plant that grows in well drained areas of montane & subalpine forests and is relatively frequent in June and July. Monkeyflower, glacier lily, fireweed, balsamroot, and Indian paintbrush are all common wildflowers.

coniferous forest - Glacier
alpine tundra - Glacier
beargrass - Glacier
glacier lily - Glacier
fireweed - Glacier
paintbrush - Glacier

Spruce and fir dominate the west and northwest, while red cedar and hemlock dominate the southwest; places east of the Continental Divide are a mix of mixed pine, spruce, fir, and prairie zones. The easternmost instances of this Pacific climate habitat are the cedar-hemlock woodlands along the Lake McDonald valley.

The effects of blister rust, a non-native fungus, have severely harmed whitebark pine ecosystems – thirty percent of the whitebark pine trees in Glacier Park and the surrounding area have died. The pine nut, also known as the whitebark pine cone seed, is a favored diet of red squirrels and the nutcracker. Grizzlies and black bears have been reported to raid squirrel caches of pine nuts, a favored diet. Efforts to stop the spread of blister rust between 1930 and 1970 were unsuccessful, and prolonged devastation of whitebark pines is imminent.

Article References (In Part)

General Info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glacier_National_Park_(U.S.)
Fishing: https://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/fishing.htm