Sunday, July 19, 2009

Waterton "Hands Across the Border"

Canadian and U.S. rangers led the cross-border hike

Katie at the International Boundary
Lined up on either side of the border, Canadians and Americans exchange a handshake of friendship
Last week I finally took the 8 mile “handshake” walk from Waterton National Park in Alberta, Canada into Glacier National Park along the shores of Waterton Lake.
It was co-led by rangers from both parks.
It honors the cooperation and friendly relationship between the U.S. and Canada and strives to inform hikers about common environmental concerns about the two parks that share a border.
It also emphasizes the fact that the two parks are really one international peace park.
Here’s the official description of the hike from “My Waterton” Web site:
“Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park Interpretive Hike
This 14 km interpretive hike winds along the western shore of Waterton Lake, stopping at the International Boundary for a moving ceremony called "Hands across the Border". It carries on to Goat Haunt, Montana, where hikers return to Waterton by boat. This is a long but gentle trail with plenty of rest stops for hikers of all abilities. This hike is held every Wednesday and Saturday at 10 a.m. from June 28th to August 30th. Space is limited so reserve your spot by calling 1.403.859. 5133.”
The hike is limited to 35 and it fills up quickly. My advice is if you want to go, sign up 24 to 48 hours in advance. There is no charge. Make sure you bring a passport of official photo ID, because it is required at the end of the hike where U.S. Immigration and Naturalization officials check.
There is a charge for the return boat ride, $22 one-way per person, which must be purchased in advance of the hike. We bought ours the night before.
We had 25 on our hike, possibly limited by the heavy rains the preceding two days.
We camped in the Waterton Townsite, which turned out to be a bit pricey.
It cost $7.50 per day, per person to get into the park, and then the site was another $32.50 per night. We reserved online and we were glad we did. The camps filled.
We found food pricey in Waterton. There seems to be a trend toward inflation, perhaps brought on by Calgary’s boom. The camps were full of Calgarians.
On our hike there were folks from everywhere, only about half were Canadian, though.
There were folks from Belgium, the Netherlands, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Illinois and many Canadian provinces. Ages ranged from mid-70s to about 10 years old and was half and half male and female.
I found the shoreline hike quite beautiful and varied.
It undulates, going inland near the two large bays ---- Bertha Bay and Boundary Bay.
There were lots of stops, so we averaged just over one mile an hour. The stops included lakeshore as well as overlooks.
There was an hour lunch break at the International Boundary where hikers lined up on both sides, heard Glacier Park Ranger Sarah Hatfield and Parks Canada Ranger Stephen Charest comment on cooperation between the two countries and the need to use that cooperation to work in the best interest of the ecosystem, which knows no boundaries.
That was a common theme throughout the trip.
The fact that a hike could be led by government employees from two different countries is an indication of such cooperation.
These hikes have been held each summer since 1978.
The “Peace Park” concept that created the Glacier-Waterton two-country park was ratified in 1932, the result of efforts by U.S. and Canadian Rotary Club members.
The boundary is marked by a wide swath where threes have been cleared, the length of the boundary across the park, quite an impressive, if a bit disturbing for its ecological implications. There were also two small obelisks marking the various treaties and the international boundary, itself.
About a mile before the hike ends there’s a river crossing on a large swinging cable bridge that gave everyone pause, but made for an exciting conclusion.
Both American and Canadian rangers were extremely knowledgeable and carried with them printed materials illustrating historical, biological, geologic and ecologic data they passed around to the hikers.
Hatfield had hikers just behind her stand where she would identify a wildflower and that hiker would then explain the wildflower to the oncoming hikers so they wouldn’t miss her explanation as she hiked on.
We saw no wildlife on the hike, although there was plenty of sign that grizzlies and mountain lions use the trail. Many bear scratching trees were strung with barbed wire that collects hair used to study the bears. We found a dead dear on the trail that had been killed by a lion.
At the Goat Haunt boat docks and ranger station at the south end of Waterton Lake in Glacier National Park, the American immigration officers stamped passports with a “Goat Haunt” stamp showing a mountain goat.
The boat goes back to Waterton at 5:25 p.m., carrying tired, but satisfied hikers. The ride itself is splendid, taking nearly an hour as the boat captain showed wildlife, mountains and told stories about the area.

Here are a couple of links of interest:
A history of the Peace Park:

The My Waterton Web site with details about the hike:

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