Glacier

Plow crews begin effort to clear Glacier's Going-to-the-Sun Road

2013-04-12T20:30:00Z 2013-04-12T20:30:46Z Plow crews begin effort to clear Glacier's Going-to-the-Sun Road missoulian.com

WEST GLACIER - Snowplow crews recently embarked on the months-long task of carving a path along Glacier National Park’s famed Going-to-the-Sun Road, and in less than two weeks they have made it past The Loop, a hairpin turn west of the Continental Divide at about 4,400 feet, and are approaching Haystack Creek.

Denise Germann, the park’s spokeswoman, said the plow crews began the annual work the week of April 1, and their progress is on par with previous years. She said crews have encountered below-average snowpack at elevations below 4,500 feet, and above-average snowpack at elevations above 4,500 feet.

“It is pretty consistent with where we have been before at this time of year,” she said. “I think the message is that a lot can happen between now and when we open the road to Logan Pass, depending on weather conditions.”

The first stretch of the 50-mile Sun Road west of the Continental Divide takes plows from Lake McDonald Lodge up to Avalanche Creek. That work will provide access for contractors who are working on the road there.

The vehicle gate at Avalanche will remain closed until the entire route is open to Logan Pass.

East of the Divide, crews were stymied on Friday due to a storm that moved in Thursday, dumping approximately 8 inches of new snow, which needed to be cleared before the plows could continue. They will soon begin plowing Two Medicine Road and the route into Many Glacier.

As work progresses toward Logan Pass, vehicle gates will be opened one by one, although the gate at Jackson Glacier Overlook will remain closed, again to give construction crews time to work on the Sun Road’s upper reaches.

“Between the end of last week and the start of this week we have made big progress on the Sun Road,” Germann said.

The earliest the road will open to the park’s upper reaches is June 21, but Germann stressed that it is not a projected opening date.

“It is the earliest that access to Logan Pass would be available, but it is not a scheduled opening date,” she said. “Again, that is weather dependent. If I had a crystal ball, I could tell you, but for now we don’t know.”

Plowing work on the Sun Road would have been delayed due to automatic federal budget cuts were it not for last-minute funding from the Glacier National Park Conservancy, which will allow the crews to run on schedule.

Germann said the $10,000 grant will be used to help pay for overtime when the crews reach the Big Drift, a massive wall of snow located just east of Logan Pass, where westerly winds cause accumulations of snow up to 80 feet deep.

“When we get to the Big Drift we do a big push, and often that requires overtime,” she said. “That money will help focus on the big push at the end.”

Reach Tristan Scott at @tristanscott, at tristan.scott@missoulian.com or at (406) 531-9745.

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