Volunteers preserve Glacier Park’s legacy

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While Memorial Day is, first and foremost, a day to honor those who gave their lives in defense of our country, Americans also have traditionally spent the long holiday weekend reconnecting with family and friends at campouts, backyard barbecues and recreating on our public lands.

And here in Northwest Montana, we have one of the best backyards in the country. Glacier National Park crowns the state with its lofty peaks, pristine glacial waters, wild places and wildlife.

The park owes much of its preservation to the Glacier National Park Volunteer Associates, a nonprofit, all volunteer official park partner whose mission is to protect, manage and assist the park so visitors may fully enjoy their wilderness experience.

The volunteers work with their boots on the ground at the park’s Visitor Center, Transit Center, Apgar Nature Center, Native Plant Nursery, Backcountry Permit office, as campground hosts, river and bike patrols, and with citizen science, research and hawk-watch projects. They also spearhead trail maintenance, historic building restoration and many other construction projects.

Their work has garnered national attention. Cheryl Klein, the Associates’ president, was recently notified that the organization has been awarded the Wes Henry Wilderness Stewardship Award by the U.S. Department of the Interior. This is the first time in the award’s history that a non-government partner has been chosen for its outstanding contributions and Klein has been invited to travel to Washington, D.C., in August to accept the award.

The 140-member strong Glacier National Park Volunteer Associates was founded in 1989. Klein has been a member since 2005 and has served four years as its president.

“I’m doing something I enjoy for the benefit of Glacier National Park, which ultimately benefits all the people who visit the park,” Klein said.

Last year members gave more than 7,000 hours of their time to making the park better — an in-kind donation of nearly $165,000. The group also raised nearly $5,000 for the Backcountry Preservation Fund earmarked for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the Trout Lake trailhead, adding another $5,000 from the fund to cover the $10,000 cost.

This year the organization has committed to a cash donation of $8,000 to support a backcountry ranger intern and $2,550 to support an intern position at the native plant Nursery.

When the park has painting, building, chinking or clean-up needs, it calls on its Volunteer Associates to get it done. And given the park is more than 100 years old, there will always be more to do. Dates for this summer’s work projects have been booked from June into September.

In addition to performing maintenance, volunteers are needed this year for the Mount Brown Hawk Watch Project as well as on the Hidden Lake Overlook, Oberlin Bend and Highline trails to ensure there is a safe distance between goats and guests, provide general information and assist visitors as needed. Inspectors are also needed at the new Aquatic Invasive Species stations around the park to check all self-propelled watercraft before entering the park’s waters.

If you want to become an associate and be part of preserving Glacier Park for the next 100 years, visit www.gnpva.org and sign up to become a member. Or contact Cheryl Klein at 270-4189 or cheboklein@att.net; or on Facebook.

Have a safe — and thankful — Memorial Day weekend.

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