WEST GLACIER – Every watercraft that enters Glacier National Park must be inspected before it touches water – even ones that have been through an inspection station outside the park.
“The consequences of aquatic invasive species becoming established in park waters at the headwaters for the Columbia, Missouri and Hudson Bay watersheds are dire for aquatic ecosystems, recreational opportunities, and economic concerns downstream,” says Brian McKeon, supervisor of the park’s AIS Inspection Program.
Boats that pass a park inspection are issued a free permit to launch. Any boat that leaves the park and returns must be re-inspected, and receive a new permit, but inspected boats that remain inside the park’s borders can be launched multiple times.
Glacier officials say the continued westward expansion of zebra and quagga mussels present greater threats to park waters each year.
The inspections can take up to 30 minutes, depending on the complexity of the boat, and boats must be clean, drained and thoroughly dry, including bilge areas and livewells, when inspected.
Boats with internal ballast tanks or other enclosed compartments that exchange water with the environment, and that cannot be readily cleaned, dried and accessed for inspection, are prohibited from launching in the park.
Starting on Memorial Day, inspections and permits will be available at park headquarters in West Glacier from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., and between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. at the St. Mary Visitor Center, Two Medicine Ranger Station and the Many Glacier Ranger Station.
Until then, the hours are from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and boaters may have to wait longer in the off-season. Those who know the approximate time they will be arriving are encouraged to call 888-7800 and let park officials know.
Boaters who want to launch on Bowman Lake must obtain a permit at park headquarters, and then proceed directly to the lake after the inspection.
Hand-propelled watercraft such as canoes, kayaks, rowboats, rafts and catarafts that do not enter the park on trailers must get a free self-certification permit.
Those require owners to perform their own inspection. Self-certification permits can be downloaded prior to entering the park at nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/boating.htm, or picked up at all park visitor centers, backcountry permit offices, park headquarters and maintained boat launches.
In addition to the mussels, aquatic invasive species can come in the form of plants such as Eurasian watermilfoil, and pathogens such as whirling disease. The species can hitch rides on boats, trailers, float tubes and even waders that have been exposed to them in waters where they have already established.
Once quagga or zebra mussels are introduced to a body of water, they rapidly multiply and blanket all hard surfaces, from shorelines to man-made infrastructure, and foul beaches and clog boat motors.
And once they’ve established colonies, they’re virtually impossible to eliminate.