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Giving Back at Glacier

From recycled glass to locally sourced food, sustainability efforts help a national park under assault

All over the world, people are choosing to make sustainable choices, and Glacier’s lodges are places where even guests help make a difference.

It’s hard to imagine a better place than Glacier National Park to appreciate the impact of climate change on pristine nature. This is one park where the frequent travel admonition, “now’s the time to go,” is all too true — at least, if you want to see the string of icy pearls hung across its high peaks.

Just 150 years ago, 150 glaciers graced these spectacular alpine summits. Only 25 remain large enough today to be considered “functional,” say scientists who expect the park’s glaciers to vanish by 2030, with many disappearing before that.

People heeding the advice to visit soon will find a variety of national park lodging and dining spots that are making environmental stewardship part of the park experience.

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Local First

That starts with dining at restaurants managed by Xanterra Parks & Resorts in the Many Glacier Hotel, Lake McDonald Lodge, and Swiftcurrent and Rising Sun Motor Inns and Cabins. Working with the Western Sustainability Exchange (WSE) and the Montana Grower’s Cooperative, executive chef Jim Chapman and food and beverage director Jeremiah Hook source more than 59% of the food served to guests from local or sustainable sources. Four park restaurants are WSE-certified Farm to Restaurant Members. That philosophy has made dozens of local purveyors the preferred source for everything from ice cream, to beer, beef, tea and more. That gives Glacier guests inclined to “go local” an easy way to get a real taste of the West.

With an amazing percentage of local food making it to menus inside the park, “the farm-to-fork movement is catching on here,” says Rachel Gerber, an owner of the nearby composting company DIRT Rich. But Gerber takes that the next step. She and her business partner, Alissa LaChance, recycle the resulting food waste, what Gerber calls “the scraps-to-soil part” of sustainability. The company got its start in 2015 and Xanterra is its biggest customer, diverting more than 36 tons of food from the local landfill. That’s sparking success for a business that’s expanding to the residential market in Whitefish and Columbia Falls. Gerber and LaChance are encouraging locals who wouldn’t otherwise compost to save their food waste for pickup by DIRT Rich in a process similar to how people recycle trash. Xanterra brings the compost back to the park to enrich flowerbeds at the lodges.

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From Glass to Garage

But sustainability practices go beyond just food recycling. Xanterra started its own recycling facility in Columbia Falls and opened it to the community, “taking recycling to a new level,” said one local media outlet. Xanterra collected 90,000 pounds of glass in 2015 and with 30,000 pounds from a recycling partner used 120,000 pounds of recycled glass in the concrete foundation for the company’s new Columbia Falls garage built to house Glacier’s famous 1930s fleet of 33 Red Bus tour vehicles, which Xanterra operates. "Taking glass and putting it back into our projects provides a commodity value to the glass," says Matt Folz, Xanterra’s director of sustainability.

The glass has also been used for curb and gutter repair at the Village Inn at Apgar to see how well recycled-glass concrete can handle the harsh weather of Glacier. Folz hopes to expand the recycling program with new and interesting uses for glass. “I support local because I am a local,” Folz says. “I am not just supporting a business, I am supporting my neighbor.”

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Big Impact

Will innovative recycling and other programs halt the ebb of Glacier’s glaciers? Of course not. But they play an important role in a place where the environment is under assault and guests are able to support programs designed to correct the problem. All over the world, people are choosing to make sustainable choices, and Glacier’s lodges are places where even guests help make a difference.

It’s pretty inspiring that on the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, “America’s Best Idea” is still giving birth to great ideas that protect a place like Glacier National Park.

For more information, visit glaciernationalparklodges.com or call 855-733-4522.

For travel experiences available from Xanterra Parks & Resorts and its affiliated properties, visit xanterra.com/explore.