A pileated woodpecker’s persistent drumming broke the pervasive silence surrounding the darkened, locked headquarters of Glacier National Park.
The parking lot had been plowed, but was empty of vehicles Wednesday as the federal government’s partial shutdown stretched on.
Just up the road from West Glacier a gate barred access to the Apgar Visitor Center.
Roughly 10 miles away in Hungry Horse, a sign posted on the front door of the locked Hungry Horse Ranger Station noted the station was closed until further notice because of a lapse in federal appropriations.
Nearby, U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer Corey Scevers gassed up an agency vehicle at a convenience store in Hungry Horse. He declined to comment about the federal shutdown.
Law enforcement employees for both Glacier National Park and Flathead National Forest are working during the shutdown. As is the Flathead Avalanche Center in Hungry Horse because of its public safety role.
At the Glacier Center convenience store in Coram, store associate Tammy Allard said she’s noticed a change since the shutdown began Dec. 22.
“I work mornings and we usually have a lot of Glacier Park people coming in and it’s slowed way down,” Allard said.
She said the shutdown has the potential to hurt small businesses.
The Flathead Valley is home to many people who work for the U.S. Forest Service or the National Park Service.
Tim McCracken of Kalispell said he has worked for Glacier National Park since 2012 and is on furlough. He said past government shutdowns and other life events have taught him to save money for emergencies.
“My wife and I just purchased our first home and my first payment was this month,” McCracken said in an email.
He said he has not yet filed for unemployment benefits and doesn’t plan to unless there’s no end in sight to the shutdown.
“I have loaned myself two months of living expenses from my retirement account, in case this shutdown lasts a few months,” McCracken said.
Meanwhile, visitors are still trickling in to the park. Leticia Souto and Angelo Silva, a couple from Brazil, stood on a dock near Apgar Village and gazed across Lake McDonald at the jagged skyline.
Souto and Silva were accompanied by Ray and Jerrie Boksich of Whitefish. The Boksiches said friends who work for the National Park Service are being affected by the shutdown.
“This thing has gone on too bloody long,” Jerrie Boksich said.
About 9 miles away, at the usual seasonal closure near Lake McDonald Lodge of the Going-to-the-Sun Road, park visitors included members of a ski club from Toledo, Ohio. They were taking a day off from downhill skiing at Whitefish Mountain Resort.
Some donned cross-country skis. Others ventured on foot a short distance up the Sperry Chalet trail.
Lori Lubinski of Toledo said her stepson, who works for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is furloughed.
“He just bought a new house,” she said. “I asked him if he’s OK and he said he is.”
Dan Towsley had driven up from Missoula to shoot photos in the park and was waiting and hoping for the clouds to lift in a park famous for both breathtaking scenery and wildlife viewing. He said he worries that iconic national parks could be damaged during the shutdown.
“It could be pretty detrimental to national parks with nobody supervising,” Towsley said.
Vandalism at Joshua Tree National Park in California included vehicle travel off roads, across sensitive habitat and into wilderness and even the felling of a Joshua tree.
McCracken shared worries similar to Towsley’s.
“I’m not necessarily concerned for Glacier, as our visitation is pretty low this time of year, but it is disheartening to look how people treat our protected places when they are not being managed,” McCracken said. “Personally, I think the parks should be shut down and visitors turned away.”
He noted how visitors in Glacier had recently been spotted with dogs, including dogs off leashes, actions that could put wildlife at risk, as reported by the Hungry Horse News.
Former Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell recently told the radio news show “Here & Now” that she believes parks should be closed during the shutdown because of risks to sensitive features and habitat. She said the impasse can also affect planning for the season ahead.
On Jan. 5, Acting Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt acknowledged in a memo that “the extended lapse in appropriations” had highlighted challenges facing the National Park Service’s efforts to protect parks during the shutdown.
Bernhardt’s memo authorized Glacier, Yellowstone and other national parks to tap user fees to pay for services such as plowing and law enforcement.
On Wednesday, the two unisex pit toilets at the road gate near Lake McDonald Lodge were open and clean, a reality greeted happily by several visitors.
The Going-to-the-Sun Road between Apgar and the lodge was plowed but icy.
Mike Moriarty and Lavinia and Kahlil Raffoul from the Toledo area donned cross-country skis Wednesday and prepared to ski in the direction of the trailhead for Avalanche Lake.
“It’s a shame they can’t work things out,” Moriarty said, referencing the shutdown.
Lavinia Raffoul said her thoughts about the impasse would be “unprintable.”
From mid-October to mid-May, the Apgar Visitor Center opens only on Saturdays and Sundays.
Now, with the visitor center closed all week, one source of information has been staff at the Glacier National Park Conservancy’s retail store in the Belton train depot.
Amber Lundgren is a member of the conservancy’s staff there.
“A lot of people who come in just assume that the park is closed,” Lundgren said.
The Glacier National Park Conservancy is often described as the park’s philanthropic partner. The nonprofit raises money and awards grants to support the park in myriad ways. For example, the conservancy had raised money for the reconstruction of a dormitory at historic Sperry Chalet. The dormitory was gutted during the Sprague Fire in 2017.
Planning for phase two of the reconstruction has been underway. But a related meeting was recently canceled because of the impasse in Washington, D.C.
In an email, Doug Mitchell, executive director of the Glacier National Park Conservancy, addressed the shutdown.
“We’re hopeful for all concerned that this process will resolve itself with the most minimal additional impact possible on our communities, park partners, local businesses and our 64 grant projects on the drawing board for 2019, including the completion of the ongoing Sperry Chalet reconstruction project,” Mitchell said.
Reporter Duncan Adams may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 758-4407. Reporter Kianna Gardner may be reached at email@example.com or 758-4439.