Quality of Life Grantee Spotlight: Glacier National Park Conservancy

Glacier National Park’s breathtaking landscapes, serene lakes and wilderness access make it one of our country’s most magical places. Yet rugged terrain, steep inclines and narrow trails can cause many of the park’s most spectacular areas to be inaccessible to people living with disabilities.

Swiftcurrent Lake Photo
In 2015, the Glacier National Park Conservancy began working with the Glacier National Park trails program and the Montana Conservation Corps to make the park’s 2.6-mile Swiftcurrent Nature Trail accessible. 

“This backcountry loop trail is in one of the most remote valleys within the park,” says Amy Lucke, donor engagement lead for the Glacier National Park Conservancy, which helps support vital preservation, education and research programs and projects. “Along with grizzly bears, black bears, deer and moose, it is possible to see bighorn sheep and mountain goats on the rocky mountainside.” 

Because of its remote location, the existing trail is being renovated in approximately 1,500-foot sections, and each section takes a season to complete. In 2021, the Glacier National Park Conservancy received a $25,000 Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation Quality of Life grant to complete a 6,000-square-foot section of the trail between the footbridge at the south end of Swiftcurrent Lake to the southern boat dock. 

“After many years, the full loop is slated to be complete in 2025,” says Lucke. “We are thrilled that the Reeve Foundation funding moved us one section closer to completing this 10-year project. We have received great feedback from visitors enjoying the trail.”

The park receives more than 3 million visitors annually. Visitation demographics are not recorded, but it is estimated that between 18,000-20,000 visitors with limited mobility visit the park each year. The trail is located on the park’s less-visited east side and starts near the accessible Many Glacier Hotel. 

“The trail is mostly flat as it follows around Swiftcurrent Lake, providing spectacular mountain views,” says Lucke. “The lake is home to bald eagles, osprey and golden eagles. Other birds observed from the trail include chickadees, finches, warblers and waterfowl such as loons and goldeneyes.”

The widened trail also passes through forested terrain with spruce, fir, aspen and pine. Depending on the time of year, hikers may see forest flowers such as arnica, glacier lilies and beargrass.

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“The magnificent scenery of Glacier National Park tends to impact people in a big way. We hope that by making trail accessibility a priority, Glacier can have a profoundly positive impact on individuals with all levels of ability,” says Lucke.

It takes roughly two weeks for a crew of over a dozen workers to make an accessible portion of the trail using Sta-Lok, a unique natural paving material. Created using decomposed granite and crushed stone with a patented polymer technology, the surface has increased traffic resistance and resists weathering from water. 

“Crews can only work from June to September each year. Asphalt is not an option here with the winter freeze and thaw cycle,” says Lucke. “Trail crews tried different materials on other trails, and we picked this material because we found it worked the best.”

Trail of the Cedars on the park’s busier west side is also accessible, and the park’s first accessible backcountry camping site will be completed in 2024. The Swiftcurrent Nature Trail remains open to visitors each season as the final sections of the trail are completed.  

“National parks were created on the premise of inclusivity for everyone, but funding limits the ability to make this happen,” says Lucke. “We are always looking for partners to help us make more of the park accessible. We are so grateful for the Reeve Foundation’s support and the opportunity to ensure Glacier remains accessible for future generations.”

About the Author - Reeve Staff

This blog was written by the Reeve Foundation for educational purposes. For more information please reach out to information@christopherreeve.org

Reeve Staff

The opinions expressed in these blogs are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $10,000,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by, ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.