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Contact: Melissa Wilson, 406-888-7895
WEST GLACIER, MONT. – Officials at Glacier National Park report that on Monday, April 3 the west side crew will begin plowing the Going-to-the-Sun Road at Lake McDonald Lodge and the east side crew will plow the Chief Mountain Road. Plowing has already begun in the Many Glacier Valley.
“In previous years, we announced a tentative plowing schedule for all roads in the park. This year, we want to alleviate the pressure created by a hypothetical timetable and instead focus on working as quickly and safely as conditions allow. Actual opening dates of all roads will be determined on a case-by-case basis depending upon snow/road conditions, safety, and resource concerns,” commented Superintendent Mick Holm.
He added, “As we begin the massive undertaking of plowing all park roads, it is important for the public to recognize that conditions we currently face are very different than those in recent years. We have the most mountain snow since 2002. However, snowpack alone isn’t the only factor which will impact plowing progress. It is also impacted by the weather in April and May.”
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) research has found that total snowpack accounts for one-third of the variability in road opening dates since 1932. Spring weather is equally important. Clear weather is ideal for spotters to be able to warn equipment operators of avalanches. When weather conditions obscure views of the slopes above the road, plowing can only occur if the avalanche hazard is low. Spring storms can dramatically increase the avalanche hazard to crews.
Holm stated, “Avalanches also pose a potential hazard to visitors. The snowpack in avalanche start zones MUST be allowed to slide down steep mountain slopes before the upper road can be opened for public use. Avalanches require sustained warm, sunny weather. When new snow accumulates in late spring, avalanche danger starts anew.”
Safety is the park’s primary concern, and many steps have been taken in recent years to address this concern. Experienced avalanche technicians are now used to provide daily snow analysis and avalanche hazard forecasts. Two remote weather stations, at Logan Pass and the Garden Wall, have also been added to provide weather data above 6,000 feet.
Plowing crew members also receive two days of avalanche and general safety training, as well as a day of cardio pulmonary resuscitation and first aid training each spring. During this training, which takes place in early May, no plowing will occur.
“In addition to plowing, our road crews must undertake significant work before roads can be opened. Some of this work includes installing guardrails, repairing potholes, culvert clearing and bridge repair, road sweeping, sign installation, and clearing of parking lots,” noted Holm.
He added, “Once again this year, our crews will operate seven-days-a-week. Pioneering work, the initial plowing of an area by the park’s most experienced crewmember, will occur Tuesday through Friday. Additional road preparation work will occur Saturday through Monday or when conditions are unsafe to plow in designated areas. This road preparation may also continue on other days if necessary for completion. ”
A seasonal plowing crew will again be utilized to help with spring plowing operations. This crew will start the first week of May, two weeks later than they began last year. Further, it should be noted that the west side plowing crew has one fewer full time employee than last year. These factors will also impact plowing progress.
The west side crew will plow to the Loop. After reaching the Loop, they will shift focus and conduct road repairs at Apgar Village. This work in Apgar may also be performed when work cannot be performed on the road. On the east side, the crew will plow to the road damage caused by last September’s heavy rain near the East Side Tunnel. Road conditions will then be assessed. Repairs were unable to be completed due to administrative problems with awarding the contract last fall.
Several roads, including the Camas, Cut Bank, and Inside North Fork Roads, are allowed to melt out. Vehicles are only allowed on them after the snow has melted and the roads have dried. Park campgrounds are plowed as necessary and respective road openings are announced as each roadway is readied for use.
It is anticipated that once the Going-to-the-Sun Road is opened to Avalanche, no additional segments on the west side will be opened until the whole portion to Logan Pass can be opened. On the east side, the road opening for vehicles will advance to Jackson Glacier Overlook. However, pedestrian and bicycle use will again be allowed on park roads prior to public vehicle access except where plowing crews are on duty and/or where snow pack is destabilized by plowing and causes unnatural risks. Bicyclists and pedestrians are reminded to comply with all closures and other park policies. When park roads are closed to vehicle use, those roads are classified as trails and regulations prohibit pets on all park trails.
Visitors should always be alert for snowplows and other heavy equipment on park roads as well as areas of ice and/or slush, avalanche zones and/or fallen rock. Additionally, spring snowstorms can cause hazardous driving conditions and/or temporary road closures.
Park visitors should remember to keep alert for bears and other wildlife. Please report any bear or mountain lion activity or sighting to a park ranger.
Photos of recent snow conditions will be available shortly online at: http://www.nps.gov/glac/gallery/032306.htm.
For information on current road conditions, visit the park’s road status Web site http://www.nps.gov/applications/glac/roadstatus/roadstatus.cfm. This page is updated as conditions change.
Current road conditions are also available by calling 511, the Montana Department of Transportation Traveler Information System. If your phone does not support 511, call 1-800-226-7623. Both numbers are toll-free. Select “Glacier Park Tourist Information” from the main menu to hear Glacier’s road report.
Travelers may also call park headquarters at 406-888-7800 for current road and weather conditions.