Thursday, May 31, 2012

Analysis Confirms 2008 Missing Hiker’s Remains

Bone fragments found in Glacier National Park last summer have been analyzed by the National Missing Person's Program at the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification and have been identified as those of Yi-Jien Hwa, a hiker missing in the park since the summer of 2008.

The analysis positively matched the bone fragments to Hwa, and several pieces of evidence were found that closely match the items identified in Hwa's equipment list. The park has contacted Hwa's family and closed the investigation.

The search effort began August 21, 2008 after receiving word from Hwa's family that he was three days overdue from a lengthy and arduous planned hike in the park's backcountry. After more than 2,500 hours of searching in difficult terrain and challenging conditions, the intensive effort was scaled back in early September of 2008. Since then, park rangers have continued to respond to new leads and analyze new information related to the investigation, including a report of suspected evidence found last summer.

In July of 2011, a hiker found a portion of two items of clothing matching the description of Hwa's clothing in an area below the steep cliffs above Avalanche Lake. This area was determined to be in the area of Hwa's intended travel route. Rangers returned to the site for further investigation and found additional evidence, including bone fragments.

Glacier National Park Rangers have extended sympathy to the family, and appreciation to the Flathead County Sheriff's Department and Search and Rescue Team, and the many individuals and organizations that assisted with the investigation.

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Glacier National Park Fund Announces Friday Hiking Schedule

On most Fridays starting on June 8th through the end of September, staff members from the Glacier National Park Fund (GNPF) will be looking for Glacier enthusiasts to join their Friday hikes. The goals of these hikes are: to share some of the Park’s accomplishments that have been supported by GNPF donors, to talk about the Park’s upcoming events/activities, and to experience the grandeur of Glacier National Park.

A couple of the scheduled hikes visit some of the most popular destinations in the park, such as the Highline Trail to Haystck Butte, Avalanche Lake and Cobalt Lake, but many of the hikes visit places that aren't as well known, such as Firebrand Pass, Huckleberry Lookout, Preston Park, Scalplock Lookout and Cracker Lake.

GNPF warns that weather conditions in Glacier are often unpredictable and can change with little notice. Thus, you need to be prepared for any type of weather - hot, cold, wet or dry. It's also suggested that you bring a backpack, your own water and a sack lunch, a hat, rain gear, sunglasses, sunscreen and whatever else you might need. You're also encouraged to bring a can of bear spray. GNPF does have bear spray available to lend you – upon signing a release waiver.

The complete hiking schedule is posted on GNPF’s website. Please e-mail or call 406-892-3250 to sign up for any of these Friday hikes.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Win a Week-Long Trip to the Tour de France

Cyclists and cycling fans may want to note that Cannondale Bicycles has recently launched its exciting Backstage at the Tour Contest. For the second consecutive year Cannondale will make a cycling fan's dream come true by giving them a once in a lifetime opportunity to spend a week with Team Liquigas-Cannondale at the Tour de France. As part of the experience, the winner will be a member of the behind the scenes team working on race-day preparation and athlete support at the world's most famous cycling event.

Consumers can enter by simply liking Cannondale's Facebook page, clicking on the Tour de France icon and filling out an application. Deadline for submissions is Thursday, May 31st at 11:59 p.m. EDT. This year's grand prize winner will spend seven days in France, touching down on Thursday, July 5 and departing Wednesday, July 11. The Grand Prize winner will also take home a SuperSix EVO bike, recently named the "Best Bike in the World" by Tour Magazine:

"Ever since I was a kid, my dream was to be a part of the Tour de France in some way and Cannondale gave me that opportunity," said Joe Praino, last year's grand prize winner. "From eating dinner with the Liquigas-Cannondale riders, to accompanying them in the team car with the directors, it was an experience that few are privileged to have."

Cannondale Facebook fans will also have the chance to vote on various backstage jobs they want the winner to perform while at the Tour de France, from spraying down bikes to preparing the team's food. Facebook fans will choose which activities make the cut, and the winner will blog about performing them while onsite at the Tour de France.

The 99th running of the Tour de France features one prologue and 20 overall stages that cover 3,479 km (2,160 miles). The Tour kicks off from the Parc d'Avroy, in the heart of Li├Ęge on Saturday, June 30 and concludes in Paris on Sunday, July 22.

I love Cannondales! I'm currently on my third Cannondale, and have been riding them for almost 25 years now. So, having an opportunity to win a SuperSix EVO bike is pretty exciting!

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Color Change in Grand Teton

Color Change in Grand Teton is the third of four videos in a new series, From Valley to Peak. The films were recently completed by Jackson-based videographers Jesse Ryan and Ryan Christopher of New Thought Media on behalf of Grand Teton National Park Foundation and Grand Teton Association. This four minute video showcase a selection of striking natural occurrences through artfully captured landscapes, time-lapses and insightful narration:

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Monday, May 28, 2012

Highway 89 Bike Pathway in Grand Tetons Completed This Week

Construction crews finished work this past week on the 6.5-mile pathway that parallels Highway 26/89/191 from the Gros Ventre River to Moose Junction within Grand Teton National Park. Superintendent Mary Gibson Scott declared that this pathway segment will open for public use on Wednesday, May 23, 2012.

The opening of Grand Teton's new "Highway 89 pathway" completes a 12.5-mile stretch that connects Jackson to Moose and the Phase I pathway that runs from Dornan's to the south Jenny Lake area. Over 20 miles of multi-use, public pathways now extend from Jackson to Jenny Lake on the Teton Park Road. The Highway 89 pathway actually spans two distinct federal agency lands: the National Elk Refuge (6 miles) and Grand Teton National Park (6.5 miles). The pathway leg from Jackson to the north bank of the Gros Ventre River crosses land managed by the National Elk Refuge.

Special rules and regulations apply to park areas that are open to non-motorized use, and the new Highway 89 pathway in Grand Teton is no exception. This pathway bisects an important wildlife corridor not previously occupied by people on foot or bike; therefore, users will need to follow special regulations designed to diminish adverse impacts to animals that frequent this park area. For example, pets are not allowed on any of Grand Teton's multi-use pathways: a regulation levied to reduce potential impacts to wildlife from the presence of domestic animals. Users will only be allowed on pathways from dawn to dusk; nighttime use is not permitted.

On all park pathways, bicyclists, inline skaters, hikers, and other users will be encouraged to follow basic rules of courtesy and safety, such as: Be alert for bears and maintain a safe distance from all wildlife (especially bison, moose and elk); obey the sunset to sunrise closure for protection of wildlife; respect the rights of others; ride single file and stay on the right side of the pathway; use a bell, whistle or voice whenever passing others; wear appropriate protective equipment such as helmets and pads; observe bicycle speeds that are reasonable to the numbers and safety of other users; and don't use motorized vehicles (exception of wheelchairs and other devices for persons with mobility impairment).

A Phase III pathway segment will connect Moose Junction with the junction to Antelope Flats Road about one mile north. Design and planning for this pathway segment will take place in coming months with construction scheduled for late summer 2013 and completion in the fall of 2014. This pathway leg will involve the building of a bridge over a deep ravine carved by Ditch Creek.

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Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Grand Canyon: From Rim to Rim

Bonus guest blog written by my wife, Kathy:

For many hikers, a “bucket list” or “life list” just wouldn’t be complete unless it included a rim to rim hike across the Grand Canyon. I was fortunate enough to do just that over the Memorial Day weekend in 1996 with three fellow hikers. While the hike itself was no easy task, perhaps just as difficult was trying to coordinate all the required reservations - at least one year in advance!

Our plan was to hike down the North Kaibab Trail, spend the night at the Phantom Ranch, and then climb back up the South Rim via the Bright Angel Trail the next day. To accomplish this we had to leave our car at the South Rim and then take the five hour shuttle to the North Rim. The day we arrived at the South Rim temperatures were in the 80’s, however, by the time we reached the North Rim that evening, it was snowing!

After spending the night at The Grand Canyon Lodge, the only lodging on the North Rim, we took the park shuttle to the North Kaibab trailhead at daybreak to begin our 14 mile trek to the bottom of the canyon. Starting off we dressed in lots of layers as the temperature was quite cold that morning.

Surprisingly, the hike begins in a spectacular alpine setting. As you continue down the trail you’ll quickly begin to see millions of years of erosion as you descend through the various geologic eras. You’re also likely to see guided mule tours as you proceed down the canyon. Some might consider this the “easy” way down to Phantom Ranch, but some of those folks didn’t appear to be having a particularly good time. We learned that mules prefer to hug the outside of the trail, which was a little frightening for some of the riders. I should note here that the park service emphatically claims that no one has ever been killed while riding a mule in the park.

This being my first visit to the deserts of the southwest, I was quite surprised by the amount of wildflowers we saw along the trail.

The first section of the North Kaibab Trail to Supai Tunnel is extremely steep, dropping more than 1400 feet in the first 1.7 miles. There are several sections where the trail is essentially a shelf on a wall. The steep drop-offs in some places are quite frightening. From Supai Tunnel to the Cottonwood Campground, the trail isn’t quite as steep, but still has an average grade of 10%. Once past the campground, with “just” 7 miles to go, the hike becomes much easier on the knees and follows along the bottom of the canyon until you reach Phantom Ranch.

Phantom Ranch is only accessible by foot, mule or raft, and seems like an oasis after an all-day hike. We arrived late in the afternoon and made our first stop at the Phantom Ranch canteen where t-shirts, snacks and cold drinks are available. After purchasing the ceremonial Phantom Ranch t-shirt and a supersize Snickers, we headed over to our cabin. After a long day on the trail my feet were pretty beat up. Since our cabin sat along Bright Angel Creek, I immediately removed my boots and dipped my achy feet into the creek water. Although quite cold, it felt great. While the cabins only have the basics: bunk beds, a sink and toilet, guests must go to a separate building to take a shower. What I remember most were the luxurious towels and the hot water…this was an unexpected treat for being at the bottom of the Grand Canyon!

Dinner is served at a pre-determined time and your menu is chosen at the time you make your reservations. I’m glad I went with the beef stew – probably the best I’ve ever had. After the ranger presentation we all turned in early - too tired to do anything else.

After an incredible pancake breakfast the next morning we hit the trail at daybreak, each with a sack lunch provided by the Ranch.

Shortly after leaving Phantom Ranch we crossed the Colorado River using a suspension bridge where you can look straight down through the grated bottom and see the raging river – another challenge for someone with a fear of heights! The hike up Bright Angel Trail is a 9.8 mile trek. While the first three miles from the ranch are relatively easy, the last 7 miles are a long slow slog to the top. Since Bright Angel Trail is one of the most popular trails in the park, it’s also the most congested, especially as you get closer to the top. It’s no wonder why though, the views are large and spectacular.

About midway up a park ranger stopped all hikers from going any further for roughly 30 minutes due to a helicopter rescue. The next day we actually met the rescued woman in the airport and found out that she broke her ankle after tripping over some rocks. This is another reminder of how dangerous hiking can be, especially on the Bright Angel Trail, which was recently named as one of the 10 most dangerous trails in the country by Backpacker Magazine.

Although tired and sore, once we reached the top of the South Rim I was overjoyed by a spectacular sense of achievement. At that time it was the most miles I’d ever hiked in a two-day period. After a well-deserved ice cream stop we headed over to our hotel, El Tovar, which is one of the park’s National Historic Landmarks. This was the perfect spot to pamper ourselves after two days and 24 miles of hiking.

After all is said and done, some may ask “was it worth it?” Absolutely! As one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Grand Canyon is a national treasure everyone should enjoy at least once in their lives.

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Friday, May 25, 2012

Rose Creek Fish Barrier Project Approved

An environmental analysis and review process for the Rose Creek Fish Barrier Removal and Bridge Replacement Project has been completed, and a decision was signed by the National Park Service Intermountain Regional Director to move forward on the project.

An analysis of the environmental impacts associated with the project and consideration of public comments on the proposal were considered before a final decision was determined. The environmental assessment was released in December, 2011. Eight comment letters were received on the proposal, all supportive of the project.

An abandoned weir, or dam, on lower Rose Creek just above the Rising Sun Campground on the east side of the park has completely blocked native fish passage for decades. Additionally, the long-term structural stability of the Rose Creek Bridge on the Going-to-the-Sun Road is threatened by sediment scouring on the downstream side of a concrete slab spanning the width of the stream beneath the bridge. The bridge's abutments are showing signs of settling, and maintenance will increase as the concrete ages. The concrete slab also inhibits fish passage during periods of low stream flow, and the bridge's appearance is not compatible with the historic design characteristics of the Going-to-the-Sun Road, a notable National Historic Landmark.

In accordance with the decision, the weir will be removed to restore fish passage along Rose Creek. The weir has not been in use since 1971. The concrete forming the weir will be removed until it is level with the streambed or no longer presents a barrier to fish. The park will also replace the Rose Creek Bridge with a new, approximately 85 foot-long, concrete girder, clear -span bridge (no footings, pilings, or piers in the stream channel). The appearance of the new bridge will be more compatible with the historic design characteristics of the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Both actions will restore access to historic spawning and rearing habitat for native fish and improve stream flow and sediment transport along lower Rose Creek.

Removal of the weir will require one to two weeks of work and is anticipated to occur during late summer or fall of this year. Demolition of the Rose Creek Bridge is expected to begin in the fall of 2013.

The environmental analysis and the finding of no significant impact (the decision document) are available here.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

National Trails Day Events

In 1987 President Ronald Reagan authorized the President's Commission on Americans Outdoors. The final report recommended that all Americans be able to go out their front doors, and within fifteen minutes, be on trails that wind through their cities or towns and bring them back without retracing steps. The recommendation, dubbed Trails for All Americans, became the impetus behind several public and private parties joining the American Hiking Society in launching the first National Trails Day in 1993.

In less than two weeks, on June 2nd, the American Hiking Society will celebrate its 20th National Trails Day. More than 2000 events across the nation will take place, including trail maintenance, hiking, paddling, biking, horseback riding, bird watching, running, trail celebrations and more!

Below are a few events in Montana that might be of interest to hikers:

* National Trails Day at Staton Lake with the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation.

* Ninemile Family Fun Run in the Lolo National Forest.

* Help establish a new loop trail that will travel within the Town of West Yellowstone and the Gallatin National Forest.

* Take a Ranger Guided Hike at First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park near Ulm.

For a full list of events in your area, please click here.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Video: Plowing near Triple Arches

Without a doubt, the guys plowing the Going-to-the-Sun Road definitely have nerves of steel. Yesterday afternoon Glacier National Park posted a new video showing a plower in a front end loader making progress near Triple Arches. There's no way I would ever want this job:

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Monday, May 21, 2012

Alberta, Canada (remember to breathe)

Have you ever been to Alberta, Canada? Although I once spent a day hiking in Waterton Lakes National Park several years ago, this video from Travel Alberta Canada makes me want to spend a lot of more time exploring the entire province. This is simply spectacular - just remember to breathe while you're watching this!

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Saturday, May 19, 2012

Grand Teton to Host Solar Eclipse Viewing Event

Grand Teton National Park will host a solar eclipse viewing event on Sunday evening, May 20, beginning 6 p.m. at the Willow Flats Overlook north of Jackson Lake Junction. Bob Hoyle, a professional astronomer and park ranger naturalist, will conduct the event in partnership with the Jackson Hole Astronomy Club.

A partial solar eclipse will be visible in Jackson Hole with about 80 percent of the Sun's disk covered by the Moon at mid-eclipse. This should occur at approximately 7:30 p.m. when the Sun is low in the western sky. The eclipse will end as the Sun drops behind the jagged Teton Range. During an informal program, Ranger Hoyle will explain the circumstances necessary for an eclipse to occur and describe the current increase in solar flare activity on the Sun with the approach of sunspot maximum.

Several telescopes equipped with special solar filters will be available to safely watch this eclipse. With 80 percent of its disk covered, the Sun becomes somewhat dimmed and people may be tempted to look directly at it. This can be harmful and may lead to permanent damage to the eyes. Special hand-held filters will also be available to view the eclipse safely without a telescope. As a bonus, viewers have the chance to see some of the numerous sunspot groups currently visible on the Sun's surface.

This solar event is called an "annular" eclipse because the Moon is near apogee-the greatest distance from Earth-and does not completely cover the Sun. A visible ring of sunlight or "annulus" (Latin for ring) frames the Moon at mid-eclipse, prompting the name "annular" or ring eclipse. This solar eclipse will be most visible along a path that passes through several national parks in the southwest, through parts of Nevada, and off the southern Oregon coast. Reservations are not required for this event.

For more information, please contact the Colter Bay Visitor Center at 307.739.3590.

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Friday, May 18, 2012

No can opener? No problem!

Have you ever arrived at your campsite, got a nice cooking fire going, and then realized that you forgot your can opener! No problem! This short video offers a technique that could come in handy some day:

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

2012 Construction on the Going-to-the-Sun Road

As many of you are likely already aware, the Going-to-the-Sun Road is undergoing a multi-year project to rehabilitate this 50-mile engineering marvel that spans the interior of Glacier National Park.

Over the last two years work has been completed on the road between Big Bend and Logan Pass, and along McDonald Creek below the West Tunnel. East of the Divide, the section between Logan Pass and Siyeh Bend was also completed.

This year work will continue between Haystack Creek and Big Bend, as well as between Avalanche Creek and Logan Creek, for a total of 5.5 miles of construction activity:

Short traffic delays will occur in the construction zones. Expect some one-lane directional travel and no more than a 30 minute total delay from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. for a one-way trip across the entire road. Occasional night delays between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. (Monday night through Friday morning) may occur with advance information posted along the road to alert visitors. In the event of a night closure, the restricted area would be between Logan Pass and Avalanche. A 15-20 minute window for passage through the restricted area would begin at 2 a.m. between Logan Pass and Avalanche.

Glacier National Park recently published an information sheet on the Top 10 Things You Need to Know (PDF) about the Going-to-the-Sun Road for 2012.

For more information on driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road, as well as a quick reference guide, please click here.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Free Programs Mark Migratory Bird Day In Yellowstone

Like clockwork each spring, many migratory birds return to or fly over environments like Yellowstone National Park en route to their breeding areas.

Yellowstone and the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center staff will celebrate International Migratory Bird Day on Saturday, May 19th, with free programs and a field trip that are open to the public.

A ranger-led bird watching car caravan is set for Saturday morning from 8:00 a.m. to noon inside the park. Those interested in participating should meet at the Madison Junction picnic area. Caravan riders are reminded they will still need to pay the $25 park entrance fee.

Saturday afternoon, the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, Montana, will host programs, games and crafts. Children of all ages can play the migration game, "It's a Risky Journey," create bird masks and origami or participate in a variety of other programs and activities.

For further information, call 307-344-2296.

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New Military Pass for Free Access to National Parks and Other Public Lands

As part of the Joining Forces initiative to support our nation’s service members and their families, several U.S. government agencies have announced an annual pass to active duty service members and their dependents, granting free access to more than 2,000 national parks, wildlife refuges, national forests, and other public lands around the nation in the coming years.

Beginning on Armed Forces Day on May 19th, active duty service men and women – Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and activated National Guard and Reserves – can obtain the new military version of the America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Annual Pass. The pass will be accepted at National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Reclamation, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Army Corps sites that charge entrance or standard amenity fees.

The initiative was announced yesterday during a ceremony at Colonial National Historical Park in Yorktown, Virginia where Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Director of the National Park Service Jonathan B. Jarvis and Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy distributed the first passes to one member from each of the military’s five branches.

Military members and their dependents can pick up a pass at any national park or wildlife refuge that charges an entrance fee or other selected sites. Members must show a current, valid military identification card to obtain their pass. The pass is also available to dependents of active duty personnel. A list of participating sites is available here.

Where there are entrance fees, the pass covers the owner and accompanying passengers in a single, private, non-commercial vehicle at recreation sites that charge per vehicle. At sites where per-person entrance fees are charged, it covers the pass owner and three accompanying adults age 16 and older. There is no entry fee for children 15 and under.

While the pass is not available to veterans and retirees, many of these individuals are eligible for other discounted passes, such as the Senior Pass, granting lifetime access to U.S. citizens over 62 for $10, and the Access Pass granting free lifetime access for permanently disabled U.S. citizens.

For more information on the pass, please click here.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Make plans now for Fall for Glacier

Mark your calendars for the Fall for Glacier fund-raiser for the Glacier National Park Fund. The non-profit organization will be holding its annual Fall for Glacier fund-raiser on September 6th through the 9th. The weekend includes a full spectrum of events and activities, including:

* Exclusive BNSF Railway Private Train Ride from Whitefish to Glacier Park Lodge.

* Three nights stay at the century old Glacier Park Lodge in East Glacier including all meals

* Blackfeet Reservation and Lewis and Clark historical tour

* Special guests and Blackfeet interpretive programs by renowned ledger artist Terrance Guardipee and Native American Music Award winner Jack Gladstone

* Red Jammer bus tours

* Discover Glacier hikes and scenic boat ride with Park interpretive rangers and researchers.

* Glacier High Tea with special guests

* Horseback riding and golf in view of the majestic mountains of Glacier

* Welcome reception Thursday evening

* BBQ cookout and Great Northern Railroad history with special guests on Friday night

* Tickets to the Backpackers Ball gala event on Saturday night – dinner, live performance by Jack Gladstone, and a live and silent auction of Glacier art, memorabilia, and outdoor packages.

For a full list of activities, special guests, excursions and to make a reservation, please click here.

For hotel and lodging options while staying near the park, please click here. For other outdoor adventure things to do, please click here.

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Monday, May 14, 2012

Proposal to remove the Avalanche Ranger Station

Glacier National Park officials are asking for public comments on a proposal to remove the Avalanche Ranger Station.

Located on the west side of the Avalanche Campground entrance road (near the Trail of the Cedars), the Avalanche Ranger Station is in a severe state of deterioration. It was constructed in 1966 as part of a rehabilitation of the Avalanche Campground under the National Park Service (NPS) Mission 66 infrastructure development program. Once a visitor information contact office and residence for two park rangers, the Avalanche Ranger Station was closed in the mid-1990’s.

As a result of disuse the ranger station is considered to be a hazard to human safety. Moreover, maintaining or restoring a building that is no longer needed would not be cost effective. The adjacent shed would also be removed, as well as a dirt service road, a propane tank, and adjoining sidewalks; the site would be restored with native vegetation.

Removing the building would have an adverse effect on the Avalanche Campground Historic Distric but would not affect the campground's eligibility for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Impacts to park resources would be minor; the park therefore believes the project could be covered under a categorical exclusion, and an environmental assessment (EA) is not being prepared at this time. The NPS is conducting public scoping to determine if there is any new information or additional concerns that would result in the need for an EA, and so the public can comment on the adverse effect determination under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act as well as proposed mitigation measures.

All comments about the proposal should be submitted by June 1st. Comments can be posted on the NPS PEPC website, or mailed to:

Superintendent Glacier National Park
Attn: Avalanche Ranger Station
P.O. Box 128
West Glacier, MT, 59936

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Where the Yellowstone Goes

Below is the official movie trailer for Where the Yellowstone Goes, A feature film about a 30-day drift boat journey down the longest "undammed" river in the lower 48.

Presented by Trout Headwaters, the film provides intimate portraits of locals in both booming cities and dusty, dwindling towns along the Yellowstone River, and illustrates the history and controversies surrounding this enigmatic watershed leading to questions about its future.

For more information, future screenings, and to purchase the film on DVD, please click here.

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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Do hikers need to carry a gun now?

Do hikers need to pack heat when venturing into the wilderness? I raise this question after reading about several violent acts in the wilderness within the last year. Allow me to list a few of these in chronological order:

* The FBI continues to search for the person(s) who murdered Scott Lilly on the Appalachian Trail in central Virginia. His “partially buried” body was found on August 12th of last year. The FBI recently announced a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator(s).

* Last August, during a violent rampage, an Indiana man stabbed and killed a 76-year-old assistant Boy Scout leader while hiking with three others on a rail trail near Bunker Hill, IN.

* On September 25th, 2011, a female driving in the Nantahala National Forest stopped to render aid to a person she believed was incapacitated, while lying beside the road. At that time a firearm was used to subdue the victim, and then she was forcibly raped. As far as I know this case has not been solved.

* Last October an avid hiker was found dead on a trail in the San Luis Obispo area with severe trauma to his head and face - presumably murdered.

* Back in March there was the highly publicised case of two men disappearing in the Smokies - five days apart - without a trace. In both cases, officials dealt with conflicting clues and details. Did they commit suicide? Did they try to disappear without a trace? Were the two incidents in anyway connected - by someone who possibly kidnapped them and/or murdered them? No other clues in the two cases have emerged.

* Perhaps one of the most shocking incidents I've seen related to this subject is learning of two teenagers who were arrested in Utah this past April, after constructing booby traps on a popular trail near Provo.

* The most recent incident, which happened within the past week, and prompted this posting, was this:

It was a little before midnight Monday when Hensley said Unicoi County 911 received a call stating an individual was holding several hikers hostage at the Beauty Spot lookout on Unaka Mountain. Hensley, who took the call, said the caller stated the man had approached the group of five hikers with a handgun drawn, told them that he was a game warden, and ordered them to get down on their hands and knees. The 911 call, Hensley said, came from one of the hikers allegedly being taken hostage.

Two of the hostages happened to be U.S. Coast Guard officers, who were able to take the gun away, and then proceeded to hogtie the assailant!

In addition to these particular incidences, National Parks and the USFS have issued warnings from time to time about drug traffickers using parks to transport drugs, set-up meth labs, and even cultivate marijuana within park boundaries.

So in the words of the immortal Marvin Gaye: What's going on? Are these isolated incidences, or is there a trend we need to be aware of? Other than hiking in groups, taking self-defense classes, what else can hikers do to protect themselves while out on the trail?

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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Wolf Collaring in Yellowstone

Capturing a wolf is not an easy task. For the past 15 winters, however, the Yellowstone Wolf Project staff has captured and fitted numerous wolves with tracking collars.

Dr. Doug Smith, leader of the Yellowstone Wolf Project, has called the collaring program “the life blood” of their field research. Without the collars it would be difficult, if not impossible, to conduct wolf studies in the park’s vast and rugged terrain.

The VHF and GPS collars allow researchers to monitor wolves, including pack movements, predation patterns, and denning, which leads to a better understanding of the role of wolves in the entire ecosystem.

This year the Wolf Project team collared 19 wolves from nine of the ten packs in the park. Part of this effort was documented on film, and illustrates how the team collars wolves in the field:

The annual collaring program is made possible by contributions to the Yellowstone Park Foundation’s Wolf Collar Sponsorship program. Since the restoration of wolves in Yellowstone in 1995, the Yellowstone Park Foundation has contributed more than $4 million - roughly 60% of the Yellowstone Wolf Project's total annual budget. To learn how you can get involved, please click here.

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Friday, May 11, 2012

A plow driver's view of the Going-to-the-Sun Road

Plow crews continue to make excellent progress on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. As of yesterday crews had made it up to Big Bend on the west side of the Continental Divide, and were up to Siyeh Bend on the east side. In fact, the park just announced this morning that the road is now open all the way to Jackson Glacier Overlook.

Below is a driver's view of what it's like to operate a snow plow on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. This clip, posted by the park, was shot with a GoPro mounted in the cab of the front end loader. I can tell you, I definitely wouldn't want this job:

For the most current list of roads open in the park, please click here.

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Yellowstone's South Entrance Opens To Cars Today

The South Entrance to Yellowstone National Park opens for automobile travel at 8:00 a.m. today, allowing spring visitors from the Jackson, Wyoming, area access to Lake and Old Faithful. The roads from the park's North and West Entrances opened as scheduled on April 20, and the East Entrance opened May 4.

Visitors should be aware that spring in Yellowstone is very unpredictable and can still bring cold temperatures, high winds and falling snow. Even cleared sections of roads can be narrow and covered with a layer of snow, ice and debris. Drivers should use extreme caution as road clearing operations can be ongoing at any time throughout the park.

By Friday, most visitor facilities will be open at Mammoth Hot Springs and Old Faithful, and limited facilities will be available at Canyon, Fishing Bridge and Grant Village. The opening of popular campgrounds and trails, especially those in the backcountry, could be delayed. A complete list of facility and road closures can be found on the web at

Updated Yellowstone National Park road information is available 24 hours a day by calling 307-344-2117.

For information on roads outside of the park from Cooke City over Colter Pass to the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway, travelers in Wyoming may dial 511; those outside of Wyoming may call 1-888-996-7623, or visit the Wyoming Department of Transportation website at

For information on the Beartooth Highway to Red Lodge, Montana, travelers in Montana may dial 511; those outside Montana may call 1-800-226-7623, or visit the Montana Department of Transportation website at

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Outside Magazine 'Adventure Grant'

In celebration of their 35th anniversary Outside Magazine is seeking proposals for its first annual Adventure Grant, a $10,000 endowment to help fund a "smart, creative, and (perhaps) slightly foolhardy project" that they will feature in an upcoming issue.

Outside offers a few examples of the kinds of "audacious" missions they're looking for (taken from Outside stories):

* Sailing a homemade raft down the Hudson River

* Walking a perfectly straight line across Canada's Prince Edward Island

* Paddling a canoe from Portland, Oregon, to Portland, Maine

If interested, and you think you have the right stuff, simply submit your proposed adventure by May 18th. Outside will then conduct a vote at beginning on June 4th to decide the winner.

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Backcountry Skills Classes Open to Public at Ninemile Wildlands Training Center

Instructors at the Ninemile Wildlands Training Center (NWTC) located at the historic Ninemile Ranger Station in the Lolo National Forest are reminding interested members of the public that over 20 courses in traditional hands-on backcountry and historic preservation skills are available to them. Courses are open to the public as well as agency personnel.

The district has been offering the classes since 1988, many of which provide a unique opportunity to learn through hands-on and classroom instruction the art of backcountry travel, cooking and camping. The instructors include well-known outfitter Smoke Elser.

Classes currently being offered include: Horsemanship, Horse Handling and Training, Leave No Trace, and the popular Ninemile Packing Clinic which focusses on stock-oriented traditional skills. Also instructing in the program are retired Northern Region packer Bob Hoverson and Ninemile ranch manager, and packer Marc Haskins.

Ninemile is also pleased to offer Historic Preservation, Dutch Oven Cooking, Traditional Hand Tools and Backcountry Survival courses. “Students learn through hands-on experiences...ranging from log structure repair on the historic Monture Guard Station to packing on our Northern Region Pack Train mules,” said Laura Johnson, who oversees the NWTC. “This is a unique opportunity to learn backcountry skills from some of the best in the business.”

Tuition for the classes ranges from $125 for Dutch Oven Cooking to $900 for Advanced Packing. Horsemanship classes range from $200 - $300 for two to three day clinics. The Ninemile Packing clinic tuition is $450.

Registration for classes is now open. Please contact the Ninemile Ranger District at (406) 626-5201 or visit

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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Flathead National Forest Campgrounds Begin Opening

The Flathead National Forest has announced that campgrounds will begin opening this weekend. Big Creek, Emery Bay, Holland Lake, Swan Lake, and Tally Lake Campgrounds and the Doris Point Boat Launch will open to the public Friday, May 11, 2012. These campgrounds and recreation areas are operated by the forest concessionaire, Big Sky Recreation.

Other campgrounds will open later in the month. The Doris Creek and Lost Johnny Campgrounds are scheduled to open Friday, May 18. Depending on weather conditions, the Lid Creek Campground is scheduled to open Thursday, May 24.

For more details on the openings, please click here.

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Introduction To Wilderness Survival in Helena

The Montana Wild Education Center in Helena will present a wilderness survival class with David Cronenwett, an experienced wilderness survival instructor, on June 2, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., at the center on 2668 Broadwater Avenue, west of Helena near Spring Meadow Lake.

Participants will learn what is required for short-term survival, including fire-making, shelter concepts, survival kits, and using a survival knife.

Cronenwett has taught wilderness survival at the University of Montana in-Helena, Carroll College, the Nature Conservancy, the Montana Discovery Foundation and other Montana institutions. He worked as a consultant for the Discovery Channel's "Dual Survival" program, and has been featured in numerous outdoor publications.

The class fee is $35 payable at the door. To register, call: 406-444-9944.

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Monday, May 7, 2012

Trail to Avalanche Lake now open

More signs of spring are appearing every day in Glacier National Park. Last week the park opened the Going-to-the-Sun Road up to the Avalanche Creek area, and we also found out that the trail to Avalanche Lake is open. This photo (below) of the lake was taken by Mark Hufstetler this past Friday.

Mark states that the trail has been cleared of downed trees, and that the route is snow-free until a few hundred yards below the lake. However, he also mentions that the section of trail that runs along the west side of the lake, from the foot to the head, is still snow-covered.

Mark also notes that many west-side trails still have a lot of deadfall. For example, there are still more than 100 trees down across the Apgar Lookout Trail at this point.

In the meantime, Avalanche Lake looks like an outstanding destination:

For the latest updates on snow plowing progress within the park, please click here.

For more detailed information on hiking to Avalanche Lake, please click here.

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Citizen Science Opportunities Available in Waterton Lakes National Park

Citizen science involves professional scientists and everyday people engaged in activities such as biological inventories, long-term monitoring, and scientific research. The goals of citizen science projects are to generate meaningful, useful data that contributes to scientific understanding of a species. That understanding can then be applied to managing species and resources at the park level.

One of the most important components of citizen science is it allows everyday people the chance to gain in-depth knowledge about species found in the park and the issues or threats facing Waterton.

Two such projects are being offered in Waterton Lakes National Park over the next couple of weeks:

Spring Plant Count
May 26 & 27

Annually, on the last weekend of May, the Federation of Alberta Naturalists organizes a spring plant count. Scientist Emeritus Peter Achuff leads of group of interested volunteers counting the number of plant species flowering in the park. This is a wonderful opportunity to explore the park while looking for and learning some of Waterton’s fantastic plants from an experienced botanist. Your sightings contribute to tracking climate-driven changes in the number of plants flowering in the park as part of an Alberta-wide snapshot.

If you are interested in participating or would like more information, please email Justin McKeown or phone (403)-859-5107.

Spring Bird Count
June 2 & 3

In support of a province-wide program of the Federation of Alberta Naturalists, Waterton Lakes National Park staff contribute to a count of birds in the park during the first weekend of June each year. Previous birding experience is helpful but not necessary. Binoculars are also helpful.

If you’re interested in participating or would like more information, please email Justin McKeown or phone (403)-859-5107.

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Sunday, May 6, 2012

Thompson Falls Bighorn Sheep Herd Continues to Decline

Based on recent surveys, the bighorn sheep herd in the Thompson Falls area (between Missoula and Libby) continues to decline. FWP Biologist Bruce Sterling counted only 52 sheep on his annual flight this spring. This figure compares to 270 sheep counted in 2008. These numbers reflect the number of sheep observed in the survey, not the total number of sheep in the population. But the trend is alarming to Sterling, who attributes most of the decline to highway mortality.

During the 2008-2012 period, a total of 110 sheep (50 ewes, 60 rams) were killed by collisions. A total of 107 sheep were killed on Highway 200 and 3 were killed by trains.

“We have lost 50 breeding or potentially breeding females during this time frame when hunters have taken only five ewes on permits,” Sterling says.

Sterling says that the highway mortality problem has been ongoing for decades, but seems to be more serious in recent years, noting that five sheep were taken out in one collision a few weeks ago.

“Now that we are at a low population level for sheep, each mortality is more critical,” Sterling says. He points out that since 1985, 403 sheep have been killed on the highway and 58 sheep were killed by trains.

Sterling cites a number of steps that have been taken to reduce highway mortalities of sheep, but they have not been effective. Yellow flashing caution signs and reader boards have not been successful in convincing drivers to slow down and avoid collisions with sheep. He says that the problem will be discussed at a meeting coming up with the Montana Department of Transportation officials on May 10.

Bighorn sheep were native to the Thompson Falls area but were extirpated by overhunting and disease passed by domestic sheep. Bighorns were re-introduced in the mid 1950s.

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Friday, May 4, 2012

All Aboard for Glacier: Spring fundraiser set for May 18th

This year’s Spring for Glacier fundraiser theme pays tribute to Glacier National Park’s vivid railroad past. You are invited to join Glacier National Park’s four non-profit partners at Lake McDonald Lodge for a fun-filled evening on Friday, May 18, 2012. This event will benefit the Park’s four partners - Glacier Institute, the Glacier Association, the Glacier National Park Associates and the Glacier National Park Fund – as they support Glacier National Park.

Spring for Glacier launches the 2012 summer season in Glacier National Park. The event begins with a reception at the historic Belton Chalet in West Glacier at 4 p.m. with cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and ticket sales for the Golden Ticket Raffle – with the winner announced later in the evening at the Live Auction. Between 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. all guests can ride a historic Red Bus to Lake McDonald Lodge - where the festivities continue until 10 p.m. The activities at the Lodge include a varied selection of hors d’oeuvres, wines and micro brews along with scenic boat rides, entertainment by David Walburn, original art works by local artists, a silent and a live auction.

• Boat tours will be provided by Glacier Park Boat Company with a park naturalist on board to talk about the history and wildlife around Lake McDonald.

• The Silent Auction includes a variety of Glacier and Montana related gifts and products. It starts at 5:30 p.m. in the grand dining room and closes at 7:45 p.m.

• The Live Auction begins at 8:30 p.m. in the Lodge Auditorium - preceded by dessert, coffee and music by the Crown of the Continent Choir. The participating artists include Rob Akey, Sheryl Bodily, Nancy Cawdrey, Haakon Ensign, Allen Jimmerson, Karen Leigh, Rochelle Lombardi, Nicholas Oberling, Mark Ogle, Cliff Rossberg, Linda Tippetts and Rusti Warner.

The cost for the event is $125 per person. Tickets are limited and must be purchased in advance. To purchase your ticket for Spring for Glacier or for further information, please call 406-888-9039.

Special lodging rates will be offered to guests at both the Belton Chalet and Lake McDonald Lodge. For reservations at the Belton, call 406-888-5000 or for reservations at Lake McDonald Lodge, call 406-892-6733.

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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Don't Try This at Home!

More like don't try this without a parachute. These guys did, and it looks like they're still alive to brag about their ride:

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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Build It. Bike It. Be a Part of It.

In celebration of National Bike Month, the Adventure Cycling Association kicked off its 3rd annual fundraising campaign for the U.S. Bicycle Route System (USBRS) yesterday, and plans to raise $50,000 by May 31st.

Using social media tools, a group of volunteer fundraisers, state partners, and leveraged funds from a diverse roster of business sponsors and community organizations, the Build It. Bike It. Be a Part of It. campaign aims to inspire cyclists across America to donate $10 or more to help build this national bike route network.

"Last spring, we raised over $30,000 for the campaign, and those funds were essential to the gains we made last year in this program," said Development Director Amanda Lipsey. "This year, we're aiming to grow the project, and so we're increasing the goal of the campaign to support that — asking our members to give, connect us to their networks, and participate in a much more significant way. Raising these funds will be essential to growing the USBRS — specifically they will help us create a 'best practices guide' to assist states implementing U.S. Bike Routes, and potentially bring on additional staff support." Presently, more than 40 states are working on U.S. Bicycle Routes.

Adventure Cycling starts the 2012 campaign with $13,000 already raised, thanks to donations from business sponsors. To date, business sponsors include Walz Caps, Adventure Center, Giant, Razoo, Stan's NoTubes,, Sun Bicycles and Origin-8, and WomanTours., BOB Trailer, Brooks, Hans Bagworks, Moots, Osprey Packs, and Planet Bike are providing in-kind support.

Last year, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) approved six new U.S. Bicycle Routes (USBR): USBR 1 in Maine and New Hampshire, USBR 20 in Michigan, and USBR 8, 95, 97, and 87 in Alaska — the first official U.S. Bicycle Routes to be established since 1982. More approvals are expected from AASHTO's Special Committee on U.S. Route Numbering during its May 2012 meeting in Traverse City, Michigan. AASHTO is a nonprofit, nonpartisan association representing highway and transportation departments in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. A powerful voice in the transportation sector, its primary goal is to foster the development of an integrated national transportation system.

The U.S. Bicycle Route System is an emerging national network of bicycle routes that span multiple states and are of national and regional significance. These routes will serve as visible and well-planned trunk lines for connecting city, regional, and statewide cycling routes, and provide transportation and tourism opportunities across the country. The USBRS project is a collaborative effort that involves officials and staff from state DOTs, the Federal Highway Administration, and nonprofits, including Adventure Cycling Association, the East Coast Greenway Alliance, and Mississippi River Trail, Inc. Adventure Cycling has provided dedicated staff support to the project since 2005.

Learn more about the 2012 Build It. Bike It. Be a Part of It. campaign and make a donation at, or join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter @usbicycleroutes (#2012usbrs).

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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Superintendent Cartwright to Discuss Upcoming Summer in Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park is hosting two community meetings to share information about park activities and provide an opportunity for personal dialogue between park management and local community members and neighbors. A west-side meeting will take place Tuesday, May 15, 5:30-7 p.m. at Discovery Square in Columbia Falls and an east-side meeting will be Wednesday, May 16 from 3-4:30 p.m. at the Glacier Park Lodge in East Glacier.

The format of the meeting will include presentations by Glacier National Park Superintendent Chas Cartwright and Deputy Superintendent Kym Hall. Following the presentations, there will be a question and answer period and opportunity for informal conversations.

Cartwright and Hall will share updates regarding 2012 park programs, including Going-to-the-Sun Road Rehabilitation, spring plowing, Apgar Transit Center Parking Lot Expansion, aquatic invasive species management, Lake McDonald Cabin Management Plan, and the role of social media with the park. Community members are encouraged to attend and learn more about what's happening at the park.

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Apgar Campground to Open This Friday

Many of Glacier National Park's campgrounds will be opening for the summer season in the upcoming weeks. Apgar Campground, on the west side of the park, will open with services on Friday, May 4, and St. Mary Campground on the east side, will open with services on May 14. Additional campgrounds will open as the season progresses.

For a complete list of opening dates, please click here.

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