By GERRY GARNER
After 20 years of debate regarding plans to pave the North Fork
Road, the issue remains a contentious one for the residents of the
isolated corridor and the project's proponents.
On one hand, the overwhelming majority of North Forkers remain
resolute in their quest to put the brakes on plans to pave a 10-mile
section of the road between Canyon Creek and Camas Road. Conversely,
supporters of the plan contend air and water pollution would be
greatly reduced, long-term maintenance costs would be significantly
pared, and a viable alternate route for access to Glacier National
Park would be created once the thoroughfare gets a much-needed
According to North Fork Preservation Association member and
longtime outspoken community member John Frederick, paving any
stretch of the road will have enormous consequences on bear and wolf
habitats and could lead to unwanted development in the sparsely
"The majority of residents and landowners of the North Fork have
said they don't want the road paved for a variety of reasons; from
adverse affects on wildlife to a possible change of lifestyles as
more people visited the North Fork and more people bought land and
moved in as a result," Frederick recently wrote.
Frederick said as more people move in to the area, animal
habitats are infringed upon and with more people having access to
the North Fork, recreation and other uses of the backcountry are
likely to produce more human an bear encounters. "Bears (that come)
in contact with people keep losing."
In late May, project supporters got a shot in the arm when a
House Appropriations subcommittee approved a $2.4-million
appropriation to facilitate the project.
Rep. Rick Hill, R-Mont., one of the project's governmental
supporters, said paving the road would provide tremendous benefit to
the local economy primarily through tourism when the Park's
Going-to-the-Sun Road is eventually closed for
With plans to begin the massive Park road rehabilitation project
shelved for the time being, Frederick said the urgency to fund the
paving project has subsided. But don't expect the North Fork
residents to throw caution and doubt to the wind; the concern over
the plan is as prevalent today as it was prior to the plan's
In their eyes, the headaches associated with the planned paving
are too high a price to pay for the occasional pothole and
dust-laden drive the road offers for area residents. In fact the
whole situation has left such a bad taste in their mouths that a
petition drive was initiated in an effort to thwart the
To date, approximately 650-700 signatures have been collected and
passed on to various governmental entities including the Flathead
County Commission and area legislators. While the numbers are
significant, Frederick said more will be coming in the very near
future. "I think the number of signatures will double over the next
couple of weeks."
The issue, which is currently stalled in the congressional paper
chain, has yet to receive the endorsement of the full committee. And
though it has the support of Hill and Sen. Conrad Burns, others
including Senator Max Baucus have spoken out against the paving
project, Frederick added.
County Commissioner Dale Williams has requested that an
Environmental Impact Statement be conducted on the matter. The
lengthy document, fashioned to explore all potential environmental
impacts the paving would have on the area, will cost several hundred
thousands of dollars and could take years to complete.