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Disabled get better view of national park


Glacier National Park Superintendent David Mihalic, Blackfeet tribal members and trail users await dedication of the newly paved trail.
Glacier National Park Superintendent David Mihalic, Blackfeet tribal members and trail users await dedication of the newly paved trail.  

October 18, 1999
Web posted at: 12:19 p.m. EDT (1619 GMT)

Enjoying nature at Montana's Glacier National Park just got easier for those who can't access the park's difficult hiking trails, like the elderly and disabled. The park's first wheelchair accessible trail east of the continental divide has been opened.

"It's a growing recommendation that we need to provide access for all park users, especially in parks that are less developed and rugged, like Glacier," said Amy Vanderbilt, spokesperson for the park.

Running Eagle Falls accessible nature trail is located near the roadway into Two Medicine Valley. The Trail of the Cedars, the only other accessible trail in the park, was constructed in 1983. It winds for about a mile through remnants of an inland rain forest and is a popular trail among all park visitors.

The American Disabilities Act brought the issue of accessible trails to the forefront, said Vanderbilt.

"And with fee demonstration funding, Glacier has been able to put a lot of funding into making it more accessible," said Vanderbilt. "The key element is that the physically challenged visitor wants to have the same experience the other visitors have. They don't want to be singled out."

Running Eagle Falls is the destination of the new accessible nature trail at Glacier National Park.  

Running Eagle Falls is named after a Blackfeet warrior who was the only woman to go on a four-day fast to suffer, dream, pray and find her medicine (vision.) As the story goes, she found it high above the falls at a site that is now sacred to the Blackfeet. In Running Eagle's day, only men of certain societies were privileged enough to fast and receive their power.

In honor of the accessible trail, the story of Running Eagle was translated from the traditional oral history of the Blackfeet Nation into an English version. Brochures of her story, in both English and Blackfeet, are available at the trailhead. An interpretive wayside sign also tells her story in both languages.

The existing Running Eagle Falls trail was widened to six feet and covered with a naturally colored substance called Road Oyl. Road Oyl uses tree rosin to bind crushed rock, which was gathered locally, and results in an environmentally friendly and wheelchair accessible path. An additional 90 feet were cleared and surfaced to form a loop that follows the water back to the parking lot.

The nature trail is a half-mile long with two spurs, one leading to an accessible view of the falls and another to Two Medicine River.

"Glacier has historically been a hiker's park. And providing wheel-chair access is another aspect to enjoy the park," said Vanderbilt.

The improvements were funded in part by a $40,000 grant from the American Airlines/National Park Foundation Miles for Trails program. An accessible restroom was constructed at the trailhead using entrance fees the park received through the Fee Demonstration Program.

The Glacier Park Associates provided funding for the Running Eagle story and translation. Glacier National History Association funded the trail guides. National Park Service trail and maintenance crews worked on the trail with the park's re-vegetation crew who replanted native vegetation along the trail.

Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved

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