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Small-town character of West Glacier is worth preserving

| March 7, 2021 12:00 AM

The community of West Glacier is in a battle to save its small-town soul, and the fight seems to intensify each year as Glacier National Park draws in record crowds and RV park development has lapped at the town’s doorstep.

For 68 years the Lundgren family, which purchased the West Glacier Mercantile Co. in 1946, were stewards of West Glacier’s townsite. And the Lundgrens, to their credit, worked hard to preserve the quaintness and charm of the gateway to Glacier.

A pivotal shift occurred in 2014 when the Lundgrens sold most of the business district and undeveloped land around West Glacier to Glacier Park Inc., now known as Pursuit Glacier Park Collection. The community’s roughly 225 residents were immediately fearful of what might happen to their historic village, but at the time GPI’s vice president and general manager promised in a press release that GPI “would strive as a company to preserve and honor what they (the Lundgren family) have created, including their reputation for offering great hospitality to guests.”

Yet three years later, in 2017, the Flathead County commissioners — despite huge opposition from West Glacier residents and others — green-lighted GPI’s request to develop a campground for 102 RV spaces and 25 cabins on 178 acres of wooded land just west of the West Glacier townsite. Once again, a pivotal shift was underway.

Fast forward to today and we see stakeholders in West Glacier and Glacier Park driving an effort to draft a West Glacier Vision Plan, a document that aims to chart future growth and expansion in the West Glacier area. The recently released draft plan was created with input from local business leaders, property owners, county officials and other stakeholders. The overriding goal is to preserve West Glacier’s character and sense of place, focusing on priorities that maintain a “minimal level” of amenities and development and a unique, small-town feel that is pedestrian-friendly.

The effort builds on the existing Canyon Area Land Use Regulatory System and would include the new plan as an addendum to the existing regulatory system or create a separate neighborhood plan for West Glacier that would allow residents to have better control over the town’s destiny.

We need only look to other tourist-driven communities such as Estes Park, Colorado, near the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, or Pigeon Forge in eastern Tennessee, home to Dollywood, to know we don’t want our treasured West Glacier exploited with gaudy attractions that overshadow the area’s natural beauty.

Time is of the essence to complete and win approval of the West Glacier Vision Plan. Let this be our pivotal shift to preserving what the plan calls a “authentic, non-pretentious West Glacier” by offering appropriately scaled trail systems and recreational amenities. We only hope this plan is not too little, too late.