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Susan Brooke, owner of St. Mary Glacier Park KOA, runs a spectacularly beautiful and diverse area in Montana, home to campers and RVers who pass through.

OPEN ROAD LIFESTYLE

FEATURES

Natural Disasters Common For St. Mary Glacier Park

KOA Campground Withstands Inevitable Fire & Ice And With The Prospect Of A New Generation Of Campers, Looks Beyond The Volatile Yet Remarkable Landscape

Fire raging in the background, a view from St Mary Glacier Park KOA [Photo Credit: St. Mary Glacier KOA]

Governments shape the world around us, even the natural one.  For example, if it weren't for early efforts to conserve parts of the land throughout the beautiful land of the United States, citizens and visitors wouldn't have National Parks to go to and enjoy the magnificent unhindered natural world.  Of course, in a democracy like the USA, the people have a strong role in deciding what gets conserved.

In 1891, the Great Northern Railway, running from St. Paul, Minnesota to Seattle, Washington, crossed the Continental Divide in the southern region of what would become Glacier National Park in Montana.  The Railroad, seeing an opportunity to develop interest in potential travelers, advertised the marvels of the area.  It was successful and the people, namely the Boone and Crockett Club, influenced U.S. Congress to designate the area as a National Park.  This was in 1910.  Since then it has grown to over 1 million acres, has hundreds of species of animals, lakes, mountains, and everything in between.

Politics played a role in an acquaintance to the park many years later, but more in a personal way - with the upkeep and management of the St. Mary Glacier Park KOA.  "We got into the business 21 years ago after being in DC for a few years going to school and working for Congress," explains Susan Brooke, owner of St. Mary KOA, "A friend of ours owns the Great Falls KOA and convinced us to get involved in the KOA campgrounds at St. Mary."  She explains that the KOA is actually on land that is owned by the Blackfeet Tribe.  When they got the campground everything needed to be replaced, from electrical to septic installations.

RVs and trailers parked within the camp with glacier mountains beyond [Photo Credit: St. Mary Glacier KOA]
St. Mary Lake is located on the east side of Glacier National Park along the Going-to-the-Sun Road

Owning a campground has some wonderful benefits, such as meeting a diverse group of people from around the world, however it certainly has its disadvantages, too.  "Campgrounds are a huge money pit," explains Brooke, "there's always something that needs to be replaced and it's always expensive."  As such, both Brooke and her husband continued working for years to support the campground.   With the uptick of RV sales by baby boomers and the trend of camping with millennials, though, they think they will have business for years and years to come.

Another unique aspect to life up in Northwest Montana is the constant threat of natural disasters.  "Natural disasters are part of our normal landscape," Brooke explains, "Since we opened we have had 3 major fires on our boundaries and 2 of them we were evacuated mid-summer, with every guest told to leave and issued a refund."  She says that even after the evacuation is finished, the national press convinces people that the entire Glacier Park is on fire, so it takes a bit to get people coming back.  They also get snowstorms, one occurring in June of 2017 where it snowed 4 feet of snow in 2 days and "we had campers stranded for days and no electricity."  Of course, anyone who has spent extended time out west knows that the winds in the spring can be very strong.  "100 mph winds on the east side of Glacier Park are not uncommon," Brooke says. In the summer it is much milder. 

Glacier Park had a major fire that was on the other side of the park that closed the Going-to-the-Sun Road during this past summer, a major artery through the park.  Montana fires like this cause a lot of tourists to cancel reservations, even though the fire was really far away.  This is pretty common with the disasters that come through and Brooke says, "Over the years we've gotten pretty good at managing expectations when there is a natural disaster.  We direct people to federal fire management websites and NOAA so they don't just have to take our word for it."  

Cars parked in the lot at Montana campground [Photo Credit: St. Mary Glacier KOA
More smoke overflows into the KOA [Photo Credit: St. Mary Glacier KOA]
Stunning shot of Glacier National Park in Montana

During the most recent evacuation, Brooke recalls that they received some different information on the evacuation at the park by the 3 Federal agencies, local agencies, and tribal government.  Luckily, Brooke and her husband competently led all the campers out, and they stayed behind and made sure to protect their buildings.  Everything worked out okay, however they recall the experience was terrifying especially at night when you can see flames and the entire sky is lit up in a red glow.

With all these natural disasters, why would people want to come to Glacier Park?  First, it is called the "Crown of the Continent Ecosystem" for good reason.  There are mountains, valleys, lakes, and glaciers. Grizzly bears, moose, goats, wolverines and 100s of species of birds.  Beyond that, as it says on the National Park website, "Glacier is the headwaters for streams that flow to the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and to Hudson's Bay."

Using the St. Mary KOA is a great way to see all of it, whether it's camping with your RV, your tent or in a cabin.  They have RV hookups, cottages, a swimming pool and hot tub complex, a store, breakfast dining, and so much more to take care of the little things that make an experience at one of the finest National Parks memorable and wonderful.


Andrew Malo

A graduate of Northeastern Illinois University in Education, Andrew has taught for the past decade in Chicago, New Mexico, and Japan.  He  enjoys tinkering with trucks and motorcycles, woodworking, reading and computer programming.  

ST. MARY / EAST GLACIER KOA

Make Sure To Stay At:

St. Mary Glacier Park KOA, a campground that's perfectly located for quick and easy access to Glacier National Park. Panoramic views from your campsite provide a backdrop of towering glacial carved valleys and peaks.

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