Man in Glacier
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You cannot improve it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.

President Theodore Roosevelt, 1903

park visitors
(Courtesy of Glacier National Park Historical Collections)

One summer evening over a decade ago, a friend and I argued long into the night as to whether people were motivated to exploit nature because of their own personal greed or whether the "unimpaired" aspects of wilderness impelled or inspired people to gain a "windfall" from its natural wealth. Was nature or man the producer of change? I do not recall how our argument ended that evening, but as one observed the history of Glacier National Park, it becomes obvious that man is both acted upon and the actor. People came to Glacier with specific goals. They came to hunt game, trap for furs, mine for copper, explore for oil, or fulfill other personal desires. The history of the area is filled with examples of people who came to Glacier seeking one thing, either failing or having their attention diverted, and then pursuing a new goal which the forests, lakes, or mountains seemed to offer.

The similarity of action among many of Glacier's historical characters linked them with a common trait—use of the park to fulfill personal needs. Just a few examples serve to show this adaptable and flexible attitude. Dr. Lyman Sperry, a professor, a lecturer, and a naturalist, entered the Lake McDonald area, was enchanted with its beauty, and became a "self-styled" explorer in the region. Immediately he planned to stake several claims at Avalanche Lake and own some of this real estate. While he allowed that opportunity to pass, within a few years he became an ardent preservationist, advocating national park status for the area. Then, a little over a decade later, after the national park had been formed, Sperry actively campaigned for the construction of a roadway through this protected area. Sperry's reaction to Glacier was a combination of enchantment, intrigue, personal gain, altruism through preservation, and finally, encouragement of use in conservation. He was, in turn, a visitor, speculator, explorer, conservationist, and developer. He changed his actions as the status of the land changed.

William R. Logan entered the region as a guide and packer for the exploration expedition of Raphael Pumpelly in the 1880s. One may presume that the area impressed him in light of his later association with Glacier as its first superintendent. By 1900, along with several thousand other speculators, Logan invested in mining exploration on Glacier's east side. When he was appointed Glacier's prime protector in 1910, he seemed to be unable to apply "protection" to all aspects of this preserve. He argued that the private landowners and unpatented mining claims should be abolished because they were "incongruous" and at the same time he proposed an extensive network of roads and other developments. Encouraging tourism was not "obtrusive" to Logan, but a handful of old homesteads and mines needed to be eliminated. Cutting swaths for the "transmountain" road was sanctioned by Logan, but he strongly attacked cutting timber for hotel construction. In his role, Logan filled positions as an explorer, speculator, protectionist, and also a developer, as time warranted and as nature seemed to require.

A less well-known character, Dan Doody, displayed similar attributes. Attracted to Glacier by the mining boom, Doody filed numerous claims, hoping for mineral wealth. When mining proved fruitless, Doody began to hunt and trap in the mountains and finally obtained a homestead along the Middle Fork near Nyack Flats. After the park was formed, Doody became a ranger and later took the job as a park hunter. As a miner, trapper, homesteader, ranger, and destroyer of undesirable animals, Dan Doody adapted to different roles as he responded to changing times and the different offerings of nature in Glacier.

Among the participants in Glacier's history, those who initiated and developed Going-to-the-Sun Road probably had the greatest impact upon the way Glacier is viewed and managed today. Visitors were able to bring their machines into the heart of the park and a significant percentage were bonded to that narrow strip of pavement. If modern Americans are to comprehend the idealism and meaning of preserving natural areas, then the first stride to understanding is the step out of the automobile and into the woods of Glacier. (Courtesy of Burlington Northern, Inc.)

We could also select almost any park superintendent as an example of a park guardian. Superintendents were directed by law to protect the natural features of Glacier. At the same time they were expected to cater to the visitors who entered the park and to insure that visitors' "use" and "enjoyment" was possible. Whether it was because of local economic pressure or because of a national park policy of attracting visitors, park officials were also promoters. Serving as the buffers between private business interests and the public, park officials had to assume the roles of diplomats. With almost any official we could select, then, the roles of bureaucrat, developer, promoter, statesman, as well as preservationist were used in his actions toward Glacier Park.

Similarly, we could select an average "Joe Tourist." His reason for entering Glacier was to see a national park. He brought his automobile and possibly his camping trailer. After driving a considerable distance and paying an entrance fee, he "expected" certain things. He "expected" to see the park from the comfort of his automobile. He "expected" to be able to eat a meal when he became hungry and to find a convenient rest room when necessary. He "expected" to have a place to stay since he was far from home. Even though his primary concern was to see and enjoy the park, his expectations included the mundane aspects of daily life. Thus, the visitor may be a utilitarian conservationist since he likes the park and intends to use it, a developer because he demands gasoline, food, and lodging, and a statistic, since his presence was recorded and used to verify plans and future expectations.

All of these people reacted to Glacier in different ways. Some, like the tourist, came expecting to enjoy Glacier Park but ended up looking for a gasoline station. Others, like Dan Doody, came looking for copper and ended up killing mountain lions for the government. A few men, like George Bird Grinnell, entered the area to hunt big game and saw in Glacier a need for protection and preservation. If one could agree then, that everyone who entered Glacier brought certain expectations and reacted in different ways to what they found, then who among them left the greatest historical impact upon this area?

The Native Americans had the least impact upon Glacier. While they hunted for game, visited the lakes, and crossed the passes, they changed very little of what they found. At one time tepee poles still remained as signs of their presence in parts of the park. At the turn of the century, the relic of a buffalo skull marked Indian activity on the top of Chief Mountain. Since the Indians physically changed so little in the area, their impact might have been forgotten had it not been for James Willard Schultz whose numerous books gave a rationale for using Indian names in Glacier. Of any group, the Indians least affected the region.

Similarly, the explorers did not alter the features of the park. Many of these men came and left without changing any aspect of the region. The fishing or hunting they might have done produced changes which are imperceptible today. Even their glowing reports failed to attract hordes of settlers to this region.

But expectations of mineral wealth drew far more people to the area beginning in the 1870s. These miners produced substantial changes in the region, including the first town at Altyn near Many Glacier. Even though the town and the mining interest was transitory, relics of their equipment, holes in the mountains, and individuals who turned to other occupations remained as remnants of that period. Some private land ownership, especially the Cracker Lake Mine, remained as a problem for park officials and an incongruous element within the park. Of all the mining activity, most of its obvious evidence was abolished and today's park visitor has to search to find its remains.

Conservation-minded people left an obvious impact: that of the park itself. At the same time, these conservationists did not clarify how the area was to be used. Since the park establishment provided for preservation and use, unique natural scenes were combined with utilitarian facilities like roads, hotels, and coffee shops. The definition of wilderness preservation evolved slowly, and not until the Wilderness Act of 1964 were more stringent guidelines drawn, further defining the use of the park. Conservationists left a park behind as evidence of their concern, but they also left a choice for park managers either to keep the park in wilderness or to open it for extensive use.

snow-covered cabin
(Courtesy of Glacier National Park Historical Collections)

Park officials and railroaders combined their influence to create facilities intended to satisfy the expectations of park visitors. They realized the need for transportation, lodging, and food, and introduced those elements into the park scene. As visitation increased, development correspondingly increased and more changes were introduced. The completion of Going-to-the-Sun Road in 1933 altered the interior of the park by creating a corridor of development through the middle of the park. The existence of the road also promoted the use of the private automobile as the primary means of seeing Glacier. The road dominated the use of the park for the vast majority of visitors, with campgrounds, visitor centers, restaurants, motels, and other facilities augmenting their stay. The many efforts to protect the region from such dangers as poachers, tree diseases, dam-building projects, and the like, seemed to have little impact upon the region's natural setting when compared with the active program of development inspired by the combination of businessmen and park officials. Their impact remains the most visually predominant and the most controversial if preservation is a concern. These officials were told the area was to be used and enjoyed. Glacier could not be fenced in. But stimulating the use and reliance upon automobiles along with that continued orientation has led, as one superintendent stated, to the primary "trouble" in Glacier National Park.

The national park idea is one of the more idealistic concepts in American history; the National Park Service has been charged with fulfilling that ideal in Glacier National Park. Determining how visitors can see, enjoy, and experience the mountain environment of Glacier while not destroying it is clearly a National Park Service responsibility. With idealistic Park Service leadership and a less demanding public attitude, the impact of man upon the natural beauty of Glacier Park may be actively reduced for the benefit of future generations and to our historical credit.


Man in Glacier
©1976, Glacier Natural History Association
buchholtz/epilog.htm — 28-Feb-2006

Copyright © 1976 Glacier Natural History Association. All rights reserved. Material from this edition may not be reproduced in any manner without the written consent of the author and publisher.