Putting the brakes on snowmobiles 

A federal judge on Tuesday reversed course and canceled a Feb. 2 temporary restraining order that had allowed a private property owner to use a snowmobile in Glacier National Park.

Snowmobile use in Glacier has been banned since 1975, but Jack McFarland, who owns a 2.75-acre tract of land within the park in the Big Prairie area north of Polebridge, sued the National Park Service earlier this month after he was denied a special use permit. The property was originally set aside as a homestead before the park was established and has been in McFarland’s family for decades.

McFarland, a financial consultant and web page developer who often commutes to New York City for work, moved onto the property with his wife and three young children last May. In testimony Tuesday, he told U.S. District Judge Donald W. Molloy that he had planned to either plow the road to his home or use a snowmobile to travel the 3.2 miles from the Polebridge Ranger Station once winter’s snows crept in. He and Kalispell attorney Stephen Berg added that the park can’t restrict access to the property and that the ban on snow machines shouldn’t apply to people who own property inside the park, also inholders, or, even though the prohibition was established with public involvement under the National Environmental Policy Act.

Because of the mild winter, McFarland and his family were able to drive on the Inside Park Road until the past few weeks. But once the snow became too deep, park officials closed it to vehicles, and the McFarlands were forced to use cross-country skis and sleds to get in and out.

Apparently tiring of the long ski and its associated hardships with three children under 6 years old, the McFarlands filed suit alleging that their easement and access rights had been violated, and the park had committed “an unconstitutional takings of property without just compensation.”

Acting on information provided by the McFarlands and Berg, Molloy issued the restraining order last week, and the park was forced to allow the family to use their snow machine, despite the continuing restrictions on everyone else. After hearing the park’s side of the story Tuesday, however, Molloy changed his mind, pulled the order, and refused to issue the preliminary injunction the family was seeking. The judge will allow other issues raised in the case to move forward. He also noted that park officials told the family in January they could use a snowmobile for medical emergencies, but for nothing else.

“The threat to the public interests...certainly outweighs the plaintiffs’ inconvenience,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Kris McLean, who represented the park, told the court. Molloy agreed.

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