On the Trail of Glaciers

Glacial Lake Missoula trailhead proposed

Glacial Lake Missoula trailhead proposed

Missoula would become a nationally designated trailhead if recently introduced legislation is approved by U.S. Congress.

This July, three Washington state lawmakers introduced H.R. 4944, a bill that would designate the Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail. The trail would mark the path of gigantic floods released from Glacial Lake Missoula 12,000 to 17,000 years ago.

The series of floods transformed the landscape from western Montana through Idaho, Washington and Oregon all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Geologists claim that an ice dam in the northern Idaho held back the inland sea, called Glacial Lake Missoula, and when the dam broke, it unleashed a torrent of water that created the unique landscape of western Montana and Eastern Washington.

The lake stretched from Polson in the north, to the Bitterroot Valley in the south, and from Garrison, Montana, in the east, to the Idaho border. The Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail would include visitor centers in each of the four states, as well as roadside exhibits and other interpretive media.

Similar in concept to the Lewis and Clark Trail and the Oregon Trail, the National Geologic Trail was studied and proposed by the National Park Service in conjunction with citizen participation from each state. Washington Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Pasco) introduced H.R. 4944 with 11 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives, as well as support from Washington Sens. Patty Murray (D-Shoreline) and Maria Cantwell (D-Edmonds).

The Glacial Lake Missoula Chapter of the Ice Age Floods Institute is encouraging Montana senators Conrad Burns and Max Baucus and Rep. Denny Rehberg to lend their support. "This is a nonpartisan effort that has the potential to significantly boost Montana's economy while telling a truly fascinating story," said Larry Lambert, Glacial Lake Missoula chapter president.

"We encourage Montanans to contact their representatives in support of passing this bill." The National Park Service has estimated establishing the trail will cost $8 million to $12 million, with annual operating costs of about $500,000. The bill would authorize acquisition of no more than 25 acres of land from willing sellers only. Most interpretive efforts would take place on land already owned by federal, state, tribal, county and municipal entities.

The Ice Age Floods Institute is a regional, nonprofit organization of citizens committed to telling the story of the cataclysmic floods that swept across Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon. Its Glacial Lake Missoula Chapter encompasses Montana, particularly those parts of the state once covered by the ice age lake.

On the Web: www.iceagefloodsinstitute.org; or www.nps.gov/iceagefloods.

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