West Glacier, Montana
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West Glacier is a small unincorporated community in eastern Flathead County, Montana, United States. The town is at the west entrance to Glacier National Park and is located on U.S. Route 2 and a main line of the BNSF Railway. The headquarters complex for Glacier National Park is located nearby. The community, heavily dependent on tourism, has a small permanent population that expands significantly during the summer tourist season; most area businesses are likewise seasonal, and primarily geared towards travelers. The elevation is 3,169 feet (966 m).
Remote and almost inaccessible, the West Glacier area drew only limited attention by white settlers until the main line of the Great Northern Railway was completed through the area in 1893. The railroad established a station named "Belton" at the current West Glacier site, and a small community slowly began to develop in the area. A post office was established at Belton in 1900. The number of homesteaders and other settlers remained small, however, due to the region's rugged, heavily forested terrain.
By the early twentieth century a small number of tourists had begun to visit the spectacular mountain landscapes east and north of Belton, and in 1910 that area was set aside as Glacier National Park. As the railway station nearest the area, Belton became a primary gateway to Glacier, and the park headquarters was established there. That year the Great Northern constructed a small hotel complex in town, called the Belton Chalets, designed to serve early park visitors. The chalet survives today under new ownership, and is a registered National Historic Landmark.
The growth of tourist traffic through Belton increased substantially in the 1920s and 1930s, largely due to the improvement of automobile routes through the area. U.S. Highway 2 was completed eastward from Belton over Marias Pass in 1930, and the Going-to-the-Sun Road was completed across Glacier Park in 1932. In 1938, a number of tourist-oriented businesses were constructed at the western end of the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Belton, forming the core of a new commercial district for the town. These businesses, owned by the Lundgren family since 1946, also remain today.
The town of Belton was renamed "West Glacier" in 1949, to better reflect its geographic location and make it more identifiable to tourists, although the railroad station and chalet complex retained the Belton name.