GREAT FALLS - Glacier National Park’s eastern border will stay closed for the 2020 tourism season after the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council voted on the decision Thursday night as a safety measure against COVID-19.
The closure means you won’t be able to drive through five roads on the east side, including Two Medicine, St. Mary’s, Cut Bank Creek, Chief Mountain and Many Glacier. This makes it impossible to access the Going-to-the-Sun road from that area.
The decision wasn’t easy for tribal council members, especially with the reported spikes in cases across the state.
“We are looking at the rest of the country and the world in response to the Coronavirus pandemic," said Eileen Henderson, the acting public communications officer with Blackfeet Nation Incident Command.
While GNP staff say they did anticipate closing that side until July, the announced season-long shutdown means they have to look at how they run the park overall, like traffic flow options and possible reopenings of campgrounds.
“We are going to relook at what campgrounds are open, and what would be the best way to that campground space,” said GNP Public Affairs Officer Gina Kervman.
As parts of the state have gradually reopened, non-essential businesses remain closed in Blackfeet communities. Local leaders are currently looking at relief grants or loans to help them out, with more details expected to be released next week.
“We know and understand and appreciate the hardships that people have gone through regarding this [pandemic],” said Mark Pollock, a member of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council who touched on the decision in a Facebook post.
Eileen notes that Blackfeet has gotten over $30 million in COVID-19 assistance thanks to the CARES Act, with much of the money planned for any potential outbreaks or virus-related emergency responses on the reservations.
Additionally, curfews and travel restrictions are also in place as safety precautions. “Non residents are permitted to access gas and food while passing through, but we ask that visitors just move along as quickly as possible,” Eileen explained.
For now Pollock says there are no reported cases of Coronavirus yet in Blackfeet nation, thanks to action from communities in the area.
"It’s only by your cooperation of practicing and enforcing these safety things...that this is working,” he said.
Depending on how the situation develops, the closure may last through October or late December.