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Videos Offer A Plow Operator's View Of The Challenges Of Spring Road Openings In Parks


Plowing operations along mountain roads such as the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park often allow little margin for error. NPS photo.

Millions of winter-weary residents of the Upper Midwest and Northeast hope they can soon put away their snow shovels for the current season, but in a number of national parks, the job of clearing snow from roads in preparation for the upcoming summer season is just getting underway. It's a mammoth job indeed, and these videos offer some interesting views from the cabs of the plows.

Visitors to places like Glacier or Yellowstone National Parks sometimes ask why it takes so long to get park roads open for the summer. The popular Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier, for example, may not open in some years until late June. If you've wondered about those schedules, a number of short videos that offer interviews with road crews and first-hand views from the cabs of snowplows will provide a bit of perspective.

At Yellowstone National Park, plowing crews are currently at work in several locations, including  the Lake and Canyon developed areas. Crews also made it to the West Entrance this past week and then began plowing toward Old Faithful, where they are dealing with two feet of hard ice on the road surface.

Winter hasn't completely surrendered just yet in Yellowstone—fourteen inches of new snow fell last Thursday in the Old Faithful area.

The following short video was shot last week at Yellowstone, and offers a behind-the-scenes—and from the cab—view of the annual spring task for road crews.

If you'd like to keep track of the status of road clearing operations in Yellowstone, the map and information at this link will be updated each Friday.

Meanwhile, at Glacier National Park, snow removal is expected to get underway in the next few days on the popular Going-to-the-Sun Road. While it's too soon to predict an opening date for the entire length of the drive for this year, mid-to-late June is a good guess based on previous years.

In 2007, through traffic to the summit at Logan Pass wasn't possible until July 1, after torrential rains the previous November caused serious damage to the road.  According to the park, the latest opening of the entire Sun Road was July 10, 1943, when the road was allowed to melt out during World War II.  In 2002 the opening of Logan Pass occurred on June 28, 2002, after a record eight feet of snow fell between May 22 and June 10. The earliest Logan Pass opening to motorized traffic occurred on May 16, 1987.

At Glacier, crews face a challenging combination of deep, wind-packed snow, avalanches, and steep drop-offs alongside the numerous switchbacks on the narrow road. Many a tourist driving this road on dry pavement in the summer finds the trip a white-knuckle experience, so look for those abrupt drop-offs while you view this video of plowing operations.

Some of the following footage is shot from the cab of the dozer making the initial cut through the snow near Triple Arches on the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

You can keep track of the current road status at Glacier at this link.

Numerous other parks, including Rocky Mountain, Denali, Mount Rainier and Yosemite, to name just a few, face similar annual challenges each spring, and getting roads—and buildings—open after a long winter is one of many "behind the scenes" jobs that are often taken for granted by visitors as they enjoy a mountain drive on a nice summer day. If you happen to encounter a road crew during your visit to a park, they'd appreciate—and probably be surprised by--a quick "thank you!"

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