Choosing a "must see destination" at Glacier National Park would be a difficult task indeed, but one spot high on many people's list would be Logan Pass. That area now has another accolade—the Montana Native Plant Society has named the Logan Pass area as the first "Important Plant Area" (IPA) designated in the state of Montana.
An IPA is a special designation modeled after Important Bird Areas identified by the Audubon Society, a global program to identify and conserve areas that are vital to birds and biodiversity.
If you've been to Logan Pass in the summer, or even seen some of the numerous photos of the spot that grace calendars, postcards and travel articles, you know the area is widely known for spectacular displays of wildflowers. The Logan Pass area is home to popular flowers like glacier lilies, beargrass, spring beauties, paintbrush and wandering daisies, but other sites can claim similar beauty. What's special about Logan Pass?
The answer is found in the exceptional number of rare arctic-alpine plants. There are more than 30 different rare plants and mosses in an area that covers less than three percent of the park.
The Logan Pass IPA straddles the Continental Divide near the center of the park at the headwaters of the St. Mary drainage. The area ranges in elevation from 5,100 feet along Reynolds Creek north of Heavy Runner Mountain to 10,000 feet on Mount Siyeh. The Logan Pass region has been described as a "hot spot for plants" due to a wide diversity of habitats, including alpine meadows, wetlands, turf, hanging gardens, fellfields, moist and dry dwarf shrublands and more.
Within the new IPA you can find eight globally rare species and 27 different state listed sensitive species representing about 30 percent of the state-listed species found in the park. Logan Pass provides habitat for the world’s largest population of goose-grass sedge. It the only place in Montana to view glaucous gentian, running pine, Macoun’s draba, and several moss species.
Jack Potter, Glacier’s Chief of Science and Resources Management, says "While these areas are not legal site designations, the IPA’s are a great tool for identifying and highlighting locations in which to focus conservation actions, research, and funding for plants and habitats."
Potter also reminds park visitors that "this IPA, as with all high elevation areas in Glacier, is very sensitive to trampling and human disturbance. Sections of the Logan Pass area are even subject to seasonal closures when the soil is saturated from snowmelt. We ask visitors to follow the ‘leave no trace’ principles and stay on the trails which are the best place to view these spectacular wildflowers."
Although you can usually enjoy some of the flowers during a brief stroll near the visitor center, the popular Hidden Lake Trail at Logan Pass offers not only a chance for additional blooms, but also great scenery and wildlife viewing as well.
The IPA designation seems especially appropriate this year, since Glacier is celebrating its centennial in 2010. The official ceremony will be observed on May 11.
The Montana Native Plant Society anticipates designating additional Important Plant Areas in coming years, as many other special areas across the state qualify for designation. More information on the program and the Logan Pass designation is available on the group's website.
If you'd like to enjoy the blooms at Logan Pass, keep in mind that the area is accessible only from about mid-June until mid-September, depending upon the amount of snowfall received each year. Unless you're planning a serious hike, the only vehicle access to the area is via the Going-to-the-Sun Road, and that route is currently undergoing some long-overdue repair and rehab, which shortens the season just a bit in the fall.
As a result, you'd find the drive to the pass a lot more pleasant if you take advantage of the park's free shuttle, which will run in 2010 from July 1 through September 6. That allows the driver and passenger to enjoy the view, and saves the potential hassle of looking for a parking spot once you reach the pass. Check this link for current—and important—information on road conditions and work and details about the shuttle.