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Loophole allows construction of private home along McDonald Creek

Hungry Horse News | February 8, 2023 11:40 AM

A private landowner has built a home along the shore of Lower McDonald Creek in Glacier National Park and Flathead County planning officials say there’s nothing they can do about it.

The home is located at the end of McDonald Creek Drive in Apgar. Private property inside the boundary of the park is subject to Flathead County rules and, in turn, floodplain regulations.

The park, for the most part, does not regulate private buildings on private land inside its boundaries, though it can influence their operation, primarily by closing roads or other access.

However, there is no Federal Emergency Management Agency floodplain designation in the area, because the floodplain was never mapped.

“We can’t regulate a floodplain if there’s no designated floodplain,” said Zachary Moon, a planner with the county Planning and Zoning Office.

He also noted there’s no county zoning on private lands in Glacier, so there’s no other restrictions outside of sewer and water.

But Apgar is serviced by Glacier National Park’s sewer and water system, which serves both private and federal buildings and residences in the area.

FEMA confirmed it has not mapped the floodplain. It doesn’t typically map floodplains on federal lands, agency officials said.

“FEMA generally has not mapped flood risk on federal lands, e.g. national parks. There is some floodplain mapping near the area in question along the Middle Fork Flathead River, but that is on a contiguous area of Flathead County that is outside of the park boundary,” wrote Jennifer E Warren, agency spokesperson, in an email. “Although there are some private land withholdings in the park that fall under Flathead County jurisdiction, which include the area in question, a study of McDonald Creek would be almost entirely within Glacier Park and so that is likely the reason why no flood study has been performed here to date.”

The home isn’t the only development in Apgar this winter.

Another private home is being built adjacent to the one at the end of McDonald Drive. And Eddie’s Cafe owner Brian Kelly is adding another story onto that building.

The new home along McDonald Creek creates a significant change to the viewshed in the area. What was once a wooded glade now has a home sticking out into it. The house is roughly 25 feet or so from the water’s edge currently, but will be much closer when the creek rises in the spring.

Nature is also sure to take its course over the coming years. The home is situated on a bend in the creek that is slowly eroding away.

Still, the house is not the closest structure to the creek. The corner of the Village Inn, owned by the National Park Service, is closer.

Glacier National Park used to have thousands of privately-held parcels within its boundaries, but over the years the park has bought them out or acquired them through donation. Private land inside the park pre-dates its creation in 1910.

Apgar, for example, was a subdivision that pre-dates the park's founding. To the north of the new home, Pursuit Glacier Park Collection (formerly Glacier Park Inc.) owns a host of rental cabins.

The Village Inn on the shores of Lake McDonald, was originally built by a private party and later acquired by the National Park Service.