I’d like to encourage all north fork landowners to weigh in on the Inside North Fork Road comment period offered by the park only until August 3rd. I know how I feel about it but I hope others will lend their opinions.
My hastily put together comments are below.
The road we know today as The Inside North Fork Road should be maintained and remain open to public transportation for so many reasons, it’s difficult to know where to begin. This historical road is important both from a practical standpoint and a treasure of cultural history still relevant to North Fork families today. Indeed, descendants of homesteading families in Glacier Park still make reunion pilgrimages to some of the North Fork sites their ancestors chose to make a go of things.
Having another option for travel in and out of our region is both a nice option and a possible life saver should some crisis arrive, such as flood or forest fire event. Just this year, the main county north fork road was closed due to forest fire.
The Inside road is listed on the National Historic Register and it certainly meets all the criteria for that consideration. The road was built in 1901 not by the park, whose establishment came nine years later but by The Butte Oil Company. John O. Bender of that organization filed for the permit from Flathead County and built the road from Apgar to Kintla Lake where they were joined by several other drilling companies trying to find a feasible way to extract the oil lying underneath shale.
The homesteaders came next, establishing some 40 to 50 homesteads along the road all the way up to Big Prairie, north of Polebridge. This amazing, hardy community built fantastic structures, raised families and farm animals, received regular mail, went to school and even joined together in mid-winter all night long square dances. all within the area that would later become Glacier National Park. They endured (but eventually succumbed to) a century of difficult relations with the park service which sometimes included harassment and many different types of “dirty pool” in order to acquire these perfectly legal land titles one by one, yet even today a few of these gems remain. Most often upon acquisition, the 160 acre homesteads were systematically burned, razed and bulldozed into obscurity without even recording or taking inventory of the fabulous sites they were. Today, now that it’s popular with visitors, the park claims on a history page their website how important this era is for cultural historic significance. How does closing this road reconcile with that kind of claim? Closing this road is the ultimate nail in the coffin to this era. It’s ironic that in 1915 these homesteaders were approached and solicited for contributions in partnership with the park, to pay for improvements to the road. All but one or two of them paid up with their hard earned money. The interesting list of contributors includes names which today can be found as you drive by such lovely features as Christensen Meadows, Sullivan Meadows, Cummings Meadows, Doverspike Meadows, Roger’s Lake and many more. In my mind the Park accepted and committed to keeping up this county road when they assumed control of this public land in 1910.
As to designating the western region of Glacier as a wildlife corridor, it already is and will stay that way whether you close the road or not. This section of the park will always be off the beaten path for most and the ancient road does not diminish isolation there at all.
As a tax payer and regular park user, I whole heartedly endorse paying the cost for the needed repairs you claim are needed. I do find it incredible these erosion problems seem so insurmountable today, considering they got the job done for over a hundred years, even all winter long to accommodate the delivery of regular mail from Belton, twice weekly! At the spot some refer to as Lover’s Leap, where the river bank naturally erodes, can’t you just re-route inland a few hundred feet or so, through the lodgepole pine? The road there has been moved a few times before but moving it substantially should be the end of that problem.
Please, keep this wonderful road, which really belongs to all of us, considering it’s history, open to motor vehicle traffic. Closing roads is always irreversible; don’t let this one die.
A scoping brochure is available online, and comments and concerns regarding the project should be submitted online at www.parkplanning.nps.gov/InsideNorthForkRoad. Comments and concerns can also be mailed to Superintendent, Glacier National Park, Attn: inside North Fork Road, PO Box 128, West Glacier, MT 59936. Comments should be submitted by August 3.