Melting glaciers in Glacier Park: The view from 1963

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The recent news release concerning the melting glaciers in Glacier National Park seems somewhat deceptive. I am a National Park Service retiree. I started my career in Glacier National Park in 1963 and attended my first park staff meeting in September of 1963.

At that meeting the United States Geological Survey staff presented the results of their annual glacier monitoring program and reported that the park glaciers were continuing to shrink. They assured the park staff that the glaciers would eventually disappear, but would not make any time predictions.

The park superintendent thanked the USGS for their effort and took the opportunity to remind the staff that the park was named Glacier because of the park topography that was formed by the action of continental glaciers thousands of years ago, not because glaciers existed in the park. It was understood and accepted by the National Park Service and the United States Geological Survey that the park glaciers were a remnant of the last ice age and would eventually melt.

It is disconcerting to hear government professionals now blame the ice melting on anthropogenic (man-caused) global warming.

The USGS wondered 50 years ago why glaciers remained in the park when the mountains north and south of the park at the same elevations did not have glaciers. The USGS of 50 years ago also would not have claimed that the disappearance of glaciers would result in uncontrolled wildfire threats. A review of the hydrology involved is needed.

The park master plan that was in place at the time specified a visitor center at the foot of Lake McDonald and the park staff was recommending an audio-visual presentation in a theater facing the head of the lake. The presentation would illustrate on screen a glacial landscape followed by movement and melting of the ice and finally curtains would open to show the existing landscape.

One of the objectives was to show the park visitor what a glacier was and could do, because it was understood that they would soon be gone.

Keith Fellbaum, of Little Falls, Minn., is a former Glacier Park engineer and was later chief of maintenance.

 

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