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Grinnell’s Glacier National Park – B&C Impact Series

George Bird Grinnell, co-founder of the Boone and Crockett Club, worked for decades to protect a chunk of northwest Montana we now call Glacier National Park


In 1885, George Bird Grinnell traveled from New York by train, wagon, and horse to hunt the area of present-day Glacier National Park. He was so taken by the country—and afraid of the destruction that might happen to it—that he would work tirelessly to permanently protect the wild landscape and the wild animals that called it home. 

”Far away in northwestern Montana, hidden from view by clustering mountain-peaks, lies and unmapped corner—the Crown of the Continent.” So began Grinnell’s 1901 article in Century magazine about a place that, as he described it, had canyons deeper than Yellowstone, peaks higher than Yosemite. Grinnell was already the editor of the popular Forest and Stream magazine, and he wrote articles touting the beauty of Glacier for his hunting and angling readers. His article in Century, though, was an effort to influence another kind of audience—East Coast socialites who might one day travel to northwestern Montana to see glaciers, majestic peaks, and wildlife. And even if they never traveled there, he wanted them to know about it. Grinnell hoped that those readers might lean on lawmakers to vote in favor of such a place if and when the time came to set it aside. 

Historic image of Lake McDonald, circa 1915.

Grinnell wasn’t a fan of lobbying politicians himself, but he was not averse to rounding up fellow members of the Boone and Crockett Club to do the lobbying for him. His hurdles, though, were many. Locals in Montana weren’t keen on the idea of setting aside an area for tourists. Oil, mining and timber interests didn't like the idea of removing potential revenue. Congressmen would also take issue with removing lands from “use” simply because they were pretty. 

Even so, Grinnell was a patient, focused, and connected man. He faced every obstacle head-on—with targeted journalism, meticulous timing, and plenty of help from his friends in D.C. and within the Club. What follows is an abbreviated version of how George Bird Grinnell, a founding member of the Boone and Crockett Club, worked to save an iconic American landscape. 

B&C Members Lay the Groundwork 

Prior to Grinnell’s initial hunting trip to the area in 1885, explorers, mountain men, and early members of the Club had only dipped a few frost-bitten toes into the glacier-fed lakes of northwest Montana. The sheer ruggedness of the landscape prevented most from fully exploring it. Chief Mountain had been noted by Lewis and Clark on an early map sent back to President Jefferson. 

"This Park, the country owes to the Boone and Crockett Club, whose members discovered the region, suggested it being set aside, caused the bill to be introduced into congress and awakened interest in it all over the country." –

George Bird Grinnell, 1910

Following the Corps of Discovery, more visitors would come, and many would be humbled by the snow, glaciers, and rock. Raphael Pumpelly, professor and Boone and Crockett member, would turn back from Cut Bank pass in 1882. He returned to the area in 1883 with writer W. A. Stiles, and W. H. Logan, who eventually would become the first superintendent of Glacier National Park.  

Two years later in 1885, Grinnell would make his first trip there. Over the next six years, he would return numerous times to explore, climb, and chronicle the native people of the region. In 1890, he became an honorary Blackfoot chief—the tribe whose reservation borders the east boundary of Glacier National Park.

By 1891, Grinnell would become fully invested in setting the area aside as a park, which by then, the area desperately needed. Word was getting out that the glacial valleys of northwest Montana might contain gold, copper, and even oil. If he was going to keep Glacier from hosting wildcatters and prospectors in every drainage, he was going to need to get creative, and that’s just what he did.

The Forest Reserve 

On Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front, the prairie appears to collide with a wall of rock, creating a windy, stark, and truly magnificent landscape. And if you’ve a mind like Grinnell, it’s also an opportunity. 

In the late 1800s, the Great Northern Railway was working its way into Glacier country. With railroads come settlers, and their homesteads on the prairie were going to need water for irrigation. Railroads also brought miners,and Grinnell worried that industrious prospectors were going to stake claims in the very heart of his Crown of the Continent. 

In A History of the Boone and Crockett Club, Boone and Crockett member William Sheldon explains that Grinnell took a phased approach to protecting the area. Phase one would create a forest reserve so the water produced by snow and glacial run-off could be conserved for use by settlers on the plains to the east. “It was a region of great precipitation, and, so long as its forests were preserved, would constitute a storage reservoir of great value,” wrote Sheldon. “It early occurred to Mr. Grinnell to try to have the region set aside as a national park, and it is a matter of record that the project of the Glacier National Park for the first time took concrete shape in September, 1891, in his suggestion that a movement be set on foot for the government to buy the St. Mary region and turn it into a national reservation.” 

Grinnell called on fellow Boone and Crockett member and hunting partner Arnold Hague at the U.S. Geological Survey to add the St. Mary area on the far eastern edge of Glacier in his recommendations for forest reserves. On February 22, 1897, President Grover Cleveland included the area around St. Mary when he created the Lewis and Clark Forest Reserve. This move temporarily delayed prospecting and settlement of the area until the spring of 1898. After that deadline passed, though, Grinnell returned to the area to find portions of the St. Mary watershed logged, mined and otherwise probed. In 1902, oil was discovered near Kintla Lake near the Canadian border. 

By nature, prospectors are an optimistic lot. But after a few years of drilling and searching for gold, silver, copper and oil, nearly all claims had been abandoned. Knowing this, Grinnell knew the time to act was getting near, but he needed a little more leverage. He found it in Louis W. Hill and the Great Northern Railway.

In 1907, Louis W. Hill took the reins of the Great Northern Railway from his father, James. Louis “...had a love of nature and grasped its attraction to a growing population of travelers,” wrote John Taliaferro in Grinnell, a thorough 2019 biography.  “As a young boy he had toured Yellowstone, reached by the Northern Pacific Railway. He pictured Glacier as the Great Northern’s Yellowstone, or the Santa Fe Railway’s Grand Canyon.” Grinnell's vision easily gained support from Hill, who recognized that a new park would equate to throngs of tourists and passengers. His railroad would later become the major concessionaire and developer of visitor facilities within Glacier. Because the Great Northern was a major player in Montana’s economy, both Louis and his father held more than a little clout with both of Montana’s senators, Thomas Carter (Boone and Crockett member) and Joseph Dixon. 

A Social Media Storm 

In December 1907, Senator Carter introduced Senate bill 2032 proposing Glacier National Park. Some historical accounts give credit to the Hills for pressuring Carter to introduce the bill—Grinnell certainly played a role, as well. “It must have seemed to Carter that by just introducing the bill he might satisfy his railroad benefactors (and maybe get Grinnell off his back) without going against his personal aversion to locking up natural resources,” wrote Andrew Harper in his article Conceiving Nature: The Creation of Montana's Glacier National Park.

As editor of Forest and Stream, Grinnell regularly used the publication to promote Glacier National Park.

On the heels of this bill, local interests voiced their opposition. The Whitefish Pilot spoke out against the loss of hunting areas, while the Kalispell Journal wanted to keep access to timber. Kalispell attorney Sidney M. Logan wrote a letter to Carter, which “...claimed the benefits of a national park to the people of the United States would not be commensurate to the injustice done to the residents of Flathead County.”

As a result, Carter let the bill dissolve. He did, though, introduce new legislation (S. 5648) in February 1908. This bill would be debated, chastised and amended until it passed the Senate, but failed to pass the House in March 1909. The good news, though, was that the idea of a park called Glacier was echoing in the halls of Congress, and pressure was mounting on lawmakers thanks to efforts by Grinnell and the Hills. 

“Glacier National Park was his baby indeed.” 

—From Grinnell, by John Taliaferro 

By the summer of 1909, Carter introduced Senate bill 2777. And this time, Grinnell and the Hills came out with barrels blazing. The elder Hill hosted President Taft at his home in St. Paul, Minnesota. Louis Hill sent gifts of whiskey, which he called the “Rocky Boy Elixir of Life”, to business leaders, politicians, and newspaper editors. 

For his part, Grinnell orchestrated an early twentieth century social media campaign. He contacted Madison Grant, secretary of the Boone and Crockett Club, to enlist support from the Club. He suggested that both Montana Senators, Carter and Dixon, be invited to the Club’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C., where they could get an earful from members about the importance of creating Glacier. Grinnell penned a series of articles in Forest and Stream glorifying Glacier in all its majesty. 

Senate bill 2777 was amended and debated, but in every instance Carter would come to its defense. In an awesome display of marketing and patriotism, Carter took on dissenting Congressman Senator Augustus Octavius Bacon of Georgia who questioned the need for a new park. Carter replied that Americans spend two million dollars annually to see mountains in Switzerland. Why shouldn’t these red-blooded Americans see their own mountains, which are just as good as those found anywhere else? 

Finally, on February 9, 1910, the bill passed the Senate. In the House, Montana’s representative Charles Pray shepherded the bill through debate, and by mid-March it emerged relatively unscathed. Meanwhile, Grinnell’s letter-writing campaign was going full-bore. Even though he did not like to lobby, Grinnell leaned on congressmen he considered friends to influence other lawmakers who voiced opposition. By April 29, 1910, the bill finally passed both the House and the Senate. 

Grinnell Glacier as seen from Upper Grinnell Lake, circa 2021.

On May 11, 1910, as Halley’s Comet entertained stargazers across the planet, Grinnell’s wish finally came true. President Taft signed the Glacier National Park bill into law. That event marked 25 years since Grinnell first visited the area and nearly a decade since he began marketing the Crown of the Continent in that article for Century magazine. 

Throughout his professional life, Grinnell was the quiet middle man. He played nice with bureaucrats, Native Americans, East Coast patricians, and everyone in between. Was this just his personality or simply how he got things done? Honestly, it really doesn’t matter. Just drive Glacier’s Going to the Sun Road at dawn in early October, and you’ll understand why. 

Grinnell (second from right) and a hiking part on Grinnell Glacier, circa 1920s.

About the Impact series

The Impact series is dedicated to showing how sportsmen, members of the Boone and Crockett Club in particular, saved the wildlife and wild places of the United States. Early members of the Boone and Crockett Club comprised the movers, shakers, and initiators of the American conservation movement. They were hunters, anglers, explorers, lawmakers, soldiers, and above all conservationists. These members established laws that allowed our wildlife resources to flourish. They also protected landscape-scale geologic marvels and American icons like Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Denali, and many, many more. These members may no longer be with us, but their legacy remains. This series aims to honor their accomplishments and remind us of the good work still yet to do.


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Impact Facts about Glacier National Park 


More Resources About Glacier National Park



Key members of the Boone and Crockett Club who helped establish Glacier National Park


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"The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak. So we must and we will."

-Theodore Roosevelt