GREAT FALLS — The Blackfeet Tribal Business Council voted unanimously on Wednesday to open the eastern entrance to Glacier National Park. The entrance was closed in June 2020 as the COVID pandemic began to spread on the reservation.
The vote comes as the Blackfeet tribe also moved to Phase 3 of its COVID response plan, permitting further opening of the reservation.
Blackfeet public information officer James McNeely said in a news release, "With the move to Phase 3, as well as consultation with medical authorities and the high rate of vaccination on the Blackfeet Reservation, the Council felt it was time to allow the east entrance to open."
"It was a real awesome experience today. The Council, they were chomping at the bit to get it done and they were excited. The vote was unanimous. A lot of it was done for the mental well-being of our own people here as well as those coming around," McNeeley told MTN News.
McNeely added that tribal officials will continue working with Glacier National Park, area business owners, and health officials, noting that masks will be required for an indefinite period of time on the reservation, and social distancing and hand-washing are still highly encouraged.
The reservation has been hit hard by the pandemic, with 1,385 recorded cases since March 15, 2020. Of those, a total of 1,351 are now listed as recovered. There have been 47 deaths due to COVID (40 counted on the reservation, two counted in the county, two counted outside of the county, three counted out of state, all were tribal/community members).
McNeely also urged people to get vaccinated by contacting the Southern Piegan Clinic or the Blackfeet Community Hospital.
"The Blackfeet Reservation, as of today, March 17, 2021, are now at 95% (6,693 of 7,000 eligible) vaccinated according to Southern Piegan Clinic and Blackfeet Community Hospital. Thank you to everyone who has worked tirelessly to get this done, especially the nurses!!!!" Blackfeet COVID-19 Incident Command said.
Glacier National Park reports the east side of the park will reopen on March 18 at Two Medicine, Cut Bank and St. Mary for foot traffic, skis and snowshoes. Regular winter closures remain in place. Chief Mountain Road will remain closed at the park boundary until road conditions permit.
The entrance at St. Mary allows vehicle traffic on Going-to-the-Sun Road for 1.5 miles until the winter gate closure at St. Mary Campground. Access past the gate is allowed by foot, skiing and snowshoeing as is typical of normal winter seasons. The St. Mary Campground remains closed to winter camping until further notice.
The roads into Cut Bank, and Two Medicine remain closed to vehicle traffic for the winter, but access by foot, skiing and snowshoeing is available past the gates as is typical of normal winter seasons.
Construction began on Many Glacier Road on March 15 and is closed to vehicular traffic and closed to hiker/biker traffic Monday through Friday through May 28.