Normally at this time of year Flathead Valley recreationists are standing around bonfires or sitting over their beers discussing the snow forecast and making predictions about the upcoming ski/snowboard season.
But this year, talk about the opening of Glacier National Park’s Going-To-The-Sun Road, a topic not usually subject to speculation until May, has been cropping up.
Record rainfalls of up to 11 inches were reported in the park during the first week of November, and that rain, combined with melting snow, caused a deluge that swept culverts out of some sections of the road, buried other sections, blew out a horse bridge and caused lakes to top their banks.
According to Melissa Wilson, spokesperson for Glacier National Park, the full extent of the damage remains unknown. Weather has stopp-ed road crews from being able to progress above The Loop on the Sun Road’s west side, and above Siyeh Bend on the road’s east side. Surveying the damage above those areas will likely have to wait until spring. Road crews are currently doing what they can to make repairs on areas below those points, Wilson says, before winter halts work.
As of now, Wilson says, there is no official estimate of how much money repairs may cost, or whether next year’s opening of the Sun Road will be delayed.
“We’re still assessing the damage,” she explains.
Photos provided by the park make the damage look severe. Some show the Sun Road near Lake McDonald looking more like a waterway, with a waterfall running over the Many Glacier Hotel access bridge and the McDonald Creek overlook partially submerged. Other photos show parts of Going-To-The-Sun Road with both lanes completely washed out and covered with rocks and other debris.
The only good news so far has come from Glacier Park Inc. (GPI) President Cindy Ognjanov. Although water from Swiftcurrent Lake had flowed into the basement floor of Many Glacier Hotel, which is operated by GPI, Ognjanov says GPI workers have been able to get the water out, and that the hotel has suffered “no damage.”
“We got wet,” she told the Independent, “but we’re drying out.”