Glacier National Park’s Going To The Sun Road Opens
On June 16, at 8p.m. the announcement went out over the “park wide” channel on Glacier’s radio network: “The Going To The Sun Road is now open for the 2016 season.” This involved much more than swinging open gates that had been closed since last fall.
Approximately 35 miles of the Going To The Sun Road (GTTSR) remain closed each winter. In the spring, plow crews encounter a fresh labyrinth of avalanche runs, wind-packed snow, toppled lodgepole pine splayed like a huge game of pickup sticks, and wind-packed snow that has accumulated for months.
“When we start working in April, these guys might be plowing 40 or 50 feet above the roadbed,” said Jim Foster, Glacier’s chief of facility management. “They understand the snow and terrain, they understand the nature of it, but every single year is a little bit different. The knowledge they have accrued can pretty much be applied to any obstacle.”
The 2016 plowing crew had eight permanent employees, four seasonal employees, and two contract avalanche technicians. Working with a fleet of rotary plows, excavators, and bulldozers they moved an estimated 140,000 tons of snow.
The 52-mile road inscribed onto Glacier’s rocky cliffs, a recognized engineering marvel, was dedicated 83 years ago. It was during the construction of the GTTSR that the inter-bureau arrangement between the National Park Service and the Bureau of Public Roads was first initiated in 1924. The experience of surveying and constructing this road shaped the subsequent partnership between the two bureaus. The road became a prototype of the successful preservation of scenery through the implementation of advanced engineering.
News of the Sun Road’s opening is a widely anticipated event; GLAC headquarters receives dozens of calls from citizens, businesses in gateway communities, and the media. The moment the gates are swung open, the parade of vehicles begins, and it won’t stop until this fall, when once again the road will be closed so that nature can begin setting up the obstacles for next year’s plowing crews. To help appease the public’s interest in the opening date, GLAC maintains a page on its website showing the plowing status, at: https://home.nps.gov/applications/glac/gttsroadplow/gttsroadplowstatus.cfm