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Landlines as lifelines: Glacier takes comments on Kelly's Camp phone, electrical service

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how ridge fire file

A CL-215 "Super Scooper" flies to a drop point near the Kelly's Camp historic district in Glacier National Park in August 2018.

For Glacier National Park homeowners, landline phones aren’t a relic of the past; they’re a lifesaving investment.

Last August, Aidan Myhre watched as the Howe Ridge Fire raced towards the Kelly’s Camp area, a stretch of private inholdings that predate Glacier’s founding. The area on the northwest shore of Lake McDonald lay beyond the reach of cell phone service, but was served by an old-fashioned landline.

That connection enabled Myhre, watching from across the lake, to alert homeowners to a danger they couldn’t see through the dense trees. “I called a couple people and said, ‘Get out,’” she told the Missoulian last summer, “and they said, ‘Oh, we’re just having appetizers down on the deck,’ and I said, ‘No, get out.’”

While the fire torched many of the area’s cabins, no lives were lost. Now, homeowners are asking for Glacier’s permission to restore the line.

Under their proposal, the Flathead Electric Cooperative would dig a trench from Wheeler Camp at the lake’s north end, nearly 2.5 miles around the lake’s west shore to Kelly’s Camp.

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This trench would carry the restored phone line. The area’s 14 landowners will fund the project, said one of them, Bill Price.

“Phone service has always been a vital communication and emergency response tool for Kelly’s Camp,” he wrote in an email. “Because cellular service is unavailable, we must rely on land-line telephone services.“

Myhre said the proposal is “in the direction that Glacier needs to go,” but also that “it’s just important to work with the park to ensure there’s adequate communication channels.”

In addition to the restored phone line, the trench will also carry electrical cable that will connect the area’s cabins to the grid for the first time. They had previously relied on small hydroelectric turbines in creeks; homeowner Randy Harrison said that several of his neighbors had also adopted propane generators.

Price predicted that switching to the grid “will reduce the use of water from Kelly Creek and support GNP’s and the Camp’s efforts to be more protective of the Park and the Kelly Creek environment.”

Glacier has determined that the project would have minimal environmental impact and should receive a categorical exclusion from deeper review under the National Environmental Policy Act. It is taking public comments on the proposal through April 1. For more information, visit https://parkplanning.nps.gov/kellyscamp2019.

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