Historic flooding puts Flathead on high alert


From her vantage point at park headquarters in West Glacier last week, Gina Kerzman said she “can’t complain” about the record rainfall and flood advisories that swept through the Flathead Valley during the last week, prompting the evacuation of low-lying residential areas and forcing the closure of many fishing access sites, as well as delivering up to two feet of snow along alpine stretches of the Going-to-the Highway -Sun in Glacier National Park as snow removal crews work to clear for summer traffic.

“It’s been minor so far. And I say ‘minor’ because, how can you complain about what’s going on in Yellowstone?” Kerzman, Glacier’s public information officer, said, making reference to the catastrophic flooding near the nearby national park.”Our bridges and roads are holding up and all the damage we’ve had has been limited to basement flooding. To my knowledge, there isn’t a piece of road missing or anything.” thing like that.

In response to persistent flooding in the Flathead Valley, Governor Greg Gianforte received a public briefing June 20 from Incident Command and Flathead County Sheriff Brian Heino at the Steel Bridge Fishing Access Site in Kalispell and proposed the availability of state resources if needed.

“I wanted to see this with my own eyes,” Gianforte said. “We are here to help you.”

Heino said the sheriff’s office is working with local and state agencies to monitor areas around Flathead Lake, which is at full capacity and poses a potential risk in the Lower Valley and areas near Somers and Lakeside.

“Since yesterday the weather has changed and more precipitation has added to streams and creeks,” Heino said.

Forecasts called for the latest storm to drop a quarter inch of rain in Kalispell, Heino added, but more than an inch had fallen by mid-afternoon Monday, when pre-evacuation advisories were in effect on the 700 block of Wagner Lane, all lower areas of the Lower Valley region, the south end of River Road and lower areas of Evergreen.

The Flathead Valley hasn’t seen flooding of this magnitude since 1975, Heino said, adding that an emergency shelter at Kalispell Middle School has been set up, but no residents have used it. installation.

Gianforte said flooding no longer poses a threat to public safety in hard-hit areas of the Yellowstone River, and Montana National Guard resources are available to be dispatched to the Flathead Valley if needed.

Last week’s record rainfall and unseasonable snowfall also presented logistical and economic setbacks as the park and its gateway communities prepare for the summer tourist season.

On the west side of the Continental Divide, businesses stretching from Kalispell to Whitefish and Columbia Falls to West Glacier are bracing for a surge in seasonal visitation, and bad weather has delayed or stalled the start of some operations.

“Obviously the snow has put a big damper on our activities, especially the ability for our guests to mountain bike from the top,” said Chad Sokol, public relations manager at Whitefish Mountain Resort on Big Mountain, which offers a series of summer activities. . Many of them, including Aerial Adventure Park and Ziplines, Strider Bike Park and Spider Monkey Mountain, have reopened, while Summit House and Base Lodge have continued to operate during the extreme weather events of the last week.

However, the alpine slide has been beset with intermittent closures, while Chair 1 only works for scenic lift rides as the mountain bike trails from the summit remain closed “a little longer as we wait for all this snow is melting”.

Yet that pales in comparison to the devastation of Yellowstone National Park and its gateway cities, where record flooding has pounded bridges and roads and recovery efforts are expected to stretch for months.

Parts of Yellowstone, including its popular South Loop, were set to reopen on June 22, although restrictions must be in place to manage visits. Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly said in a press release that he was implementing a temporary license plate system to regulate crowds.

“It’s impossible to reopen a single loop in the summer without having some type of system in place to manage visitation,” Sholly said, noting that the park and its partner partners expected record summer crowds to converge. this year for its 150th anniversary.

A plow works to clear avalanche debris from the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Courtesy NPS

At Glacier Park, Kerzman said he heard rampant speculation about the effect limited operations in Yellowstone might have on Glacier, which requires vehicle reservations at its most popular entrances.

“Most is just speculation at this point, but we encourage any visitors who have a change of plans to take the time to understand the details regarding the reservation system,” she said. “Right now 24 hour advanced reservations are available but all others are gone.”

Late-season snowfall and subsequent warming temperatures caused widespread avalanche activity along the Sun Road Corridor, forcing snow removal crews to repeatedly dig avalanche-prone sections of the Alpine Way .

“Progress has been slow this year,” Kerzman said. “The avalanche risks were significant. Plow crews had to dig Triple Arches three times. I would say if the weather starts to cooperate and things start to melt, and the avalanche danger isn’t too high, we could knock it out pretty quickly. But so far, progress has been slow.

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