Flathead County finds itself in an awkward position with one of its own commissioners charged with felony criminal mischief for killing a half-dozen cottonwood trees in a county park on Whitefish Lake near his home.
Commissioner Phil Mitchell, who has an extensive background in landscaping, deemed the trees a “substantial nuisance” and proceeded to girdle them by removing rings of bark. Then he applied herbicide to finish them off. The act certainly was intentional — Mitchell admitted as much — and he has issued an after-the-fact apology to the public and county officials for destroying public property.
He’s offered to make restitution and plant new trees. Mitchell said the cottonwoods endanger people because limbs can tear loose, and they’re messy, dropping cotton, pods and sticky sap. That still doesn’t excuse his action and we are glad to see the county holding one of its own accountable.
Since court documents indicated Mitchell may be trying to sell his own property, one has to wonder if there was an ulterior motive in his tampering with the neighboring trees. Did their forced removal improve the viewshed from his home? It’s often easier to ask forgiveness than to ask permission.
We hope this is an isolated lapse of judgment for Mitchell because we need commissioners who abide by the law and protect public property, not destroy it.
What’s next for Glacier?
The crowds at Glacier National Park reached an unprecedented level in July. For the first time ever, the park saw a whopping 1 million visitors enter its gates in a single month.
That’s a 23 percent jump over last July and even outpaced Yellowstone National Park’s July visitor total — a rare occurrence that highlights just how busy the park has been so far this year.
While all our visitors are keeping the local economy humming along at a steady clip, they are also creating gridlock on park roads, trails and parking lots — and probably keeping many locals away.
To deal with all this congestion, park officials in mid-July called an emergency workshop to discuss options. One idea that emerged would impose a one-hour limit on about 60 parking spaces at the Logan Pass Visitor Center. The intent is to free up some spaces for folks looking to make a quick stop, use the restroom, snap a few photos and get back on the road.
This is a good, and probably necessary, idea that we hope the park follows through with and enforces in the coming weeks.
Of course, if Glacier visitation continues to trend upward, and we think it will, more creative solutions are going to be necessary to keep the park an enjoyable experience for both visitors and locals alike.