By Jeremiah Eaton
There has always been something different about Glacier National Park. Its essence is elusive, and appeals to each person in its own way. Foreign but enticing. My aspiration to keep this appeal alive constantly drives me to work to make Glacier as sustainable as possible. Recently, I was able to pin down how the essence of Glacier appeals to me. It was a brisk fall morning; I was cresting over a shallow mountain pass admiring the expanse of rivers, mountains, and valleys laid out before me. I began a descent into a small, lush valley. The cool autumn mist hung in the air, dense yet oddly inviting. I was alone, except for the company of my thoughts. As I trudged on, I began to see several silhouettes following me on the rocky ridge to the south. I peered into the mist to try to get a better visual. As if on cue, the sun broke through the haze to illuminate two of the most beautiful mule deer I have ever seen. They were back dropped by a breathtaking view of Lake McDonald and the surrounding Craggy Mountain Range. The sunlight was reflecting off the condensation on the deer’s fur coats, emanating a brilliant glow. I couldn’t do anything but live in the moment, completely gripped by the beauty of life. Me, the mule deer, and the mountain. It was the first time that I truly knew what made me fall in love with this place, the solitude of nature.
Glacier is not a new location to me. It was the first National Park I had the privilege to visit and it was the inspiration that led me to explore many others. However, this is the first time I get to call Glacier my home. Glacier is one of the top ten most visited national parks. Tenth to be exact, with a total annual visitation of nearly three million tourists — an astounding number considering the remoteness and limitations of the park. Even more surprising is the fact that more than 80% of visitors usually come during Glaciers “peak season,” which only lasts from late June to early September. The visitation rate during these months is alarming due to the density of people in the park. However, there is an underlying benefit to these statistics. Less than 20% of all visitations occurred during the eight months of the off season. Glacier is bustling in the summer and isolated for the rest of the year, giving me access to a variety of experiences with some of the most pristine natural landscapes. This is especially exciting to me because it will provide an unrivaled dichotomy of solitude and society. I will get a rare glimpse into how — if at all — the meaning of sustainability fluctuates with visitor use. I will get to experience the solitude portion further in the coming months.
I want to preface with the statement that I am beyond happy that the National Park Service’s primary mission is to preserve the park “for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.” National Parks are what drove me toward my current career path and recreational hobbies. They set a brick in the foundation of who I am today. There is nothing wrong with sharing the park with other visitors; the parks are here to be experienced by any who seek them out. That said, there is nothing wrong with taking advantage of the off season either. That is what I am preparing to do this winter.
Park activity has really been winding down after I started my service position in early October. The summer seasonals have all wrapped up their terms, leaving only a few permanents hanging around for the long winter. When I am in the park, I find myself running into more wildlife than people, and I am perfectly content with that. It is certainly a stark contrast to the bustling college atmosphere I left only a few months ago. I traded in the college lifestyle with the lifestyle of an Energy Corps service member. I have found that it is a perfect time to focus on how I want to proceed with my service position as the Sustainability Educator. I get the opportunity to devote my time and energy toward making Glacier more sustainable so it can continue to serve millions of people. My service has brought me to my favorite place, doing my favorite work. The best of both worlds.
As I began the next stage of my life I realized that change is mandatory, but growth is optional. This upcoming period will be a time of growth, and the period after that, and after that. I have made a personal commitment to focus on improving myself, with hopes that these improvements will be reflected in my work and personal lives alike. I will strive to embrace the Thoreau quote that claims “I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.” The last several years of my life have been spent in an atmosphere that is not conducive to introspection. The hustle of college life leaves little time for personal reflection and improvement. The personal growth I made in college was less deliberate, it was simply the result of immersion into a new environment. I found myself going out of my way to find a quiet place where I could finally hear my own thoughts. Now, my situation is quite different. I am facing an opportunity to really dive into this rare opportunity of solitude. I am hoping that what I learn will enable me to make a larger impact through my work. Glacier National Park is my oasis, a place to refresh, renew, and refocus. Glacier offers little in the vein of societal luxuries, although I believe that to be a luxury in itself. This is precisely what I am looking forward to. My fantastic service position will be accompanied by great books, a tiny community of great people, and lots of great scenery. What more could I desire?