GLACIER NATIONAL PARK — Here at the crown of the continent, where you can stand on the spot at which a falling raindrop, depending on the wind, could head to one of three oceans, you might expect me to report on the state of our glaciers. (They’re vanishing.)
I could point out that going from 300 chunks of year-round, high-altitude ice 150 years ago to 25 glaciers today is proof positive of climate change, whether it be man-made or man-assisted. Then I could point out that the deniers of such visible facts are the same ones who, just recently, denied the force of basic economics, and whose being so stubbornly wrong about all of it helped kneecap everybody’s 401Ks.
But I’m not going to write about that. No, I need to find something positive — I need to look up, toward the sun.
And they have just the thing here — the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Improbably notched into to the side of sheer cliffs, it runs from the valley floor to Logan Pass, each twist and turn punctuated by some of the planet’s most spectacular scenery.
Completed in 1932, it remains a crazy feat of American engineering — a kind of national “because it’s there” moment when Congress funded it. It’s also distinctly of another era, when we did things for beauty’s sake.
Before you view it through the lens of 2011 and think “typical big government boondoggle,” consider that it is exactly the kind of government spending we need. Like the Erie Canal, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Internet, it is infrastructure — one of the central duties of government — and it has delivered a big, lasting economic punch in jobs and tourism. Two million people visit Glacier Park every year, and 500,000 summit Logan Pass. (There seemed to be about that many there Sunday, looking for a parking spot.) And up on top of the world, as the park ranger told us about those vanishing glaciers, you could hear French, German and Spanish being spoken.
When you get back down out of the clouds, and after you pry your fingers from the steering wheel, the old cliché hits you: Is this a great country or what?
So where are the leaders today who will fight for dynamic infrastructure and the value of beauty? Where are the leaders who dare to dream that a little government can go a long way? You know, leaders who look up — who go toward the sun. n
Ted S. McGregor Jr. is the Editor and Publisher of The Inlander.