Every spring, before a parade of vehicles roars up Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road, an equally impressive procession of bikes climbs the iconic highway.
But that favorite spring pastime was almost outlawed in the spring of 1974, had it not been for former Superintendent Phillip Iversen. Iversen’s predecessor, Bill Briggle, had closed biker access to the road a few months earlier, arguing that the mountain road was too narrow for bikes and cars to pass safely. When Iversen learned of Briggle’s decision, he initially thought little of it—“Who in their right mind would want to ride a bicycle on such a steeply elevated road anyway?”
But as the snow melted and local bikers learned of the decision, the park began to get calls from angry and disappointed recreationalists. Iversen decided to meet with some of the bikers and quickly hashed out a solution where bikers would be able to ride during certain hours of the day, a schedule that remains in place to this day.
That is just one of the dozens of stories that Iversen retells in his new book, The Centennial of a Great Idea, which recounts his 30-year career at 10 different national parks. Iversen published the book earlier this summer, just before the National Park Service’s centennial.
“I lived through some of the National Park Service’s history and so I thought I should record some of it,” Iversen said recently from his home in Kalispell.
Iversen was born in Oregon but grew up in the Midwest. In the late 1940s, he studied architecture in Nebraska, and during his time there he had to take a public speaking course. One of his classmates spoke about his time as a seasonal ranger in Zion National Park in Utah. Iversen found the talk so exciting that he immediately applied for a job at the park and became a seasonal ranger in 1948. Iversen fell in love with the outdoors that summer and he never went back to school for architecture, instead choosing to start a career with the Park Service.
“That class changed my whole life,” he said.
Iversen spent the next two decades jumping around the park system, serving at Grand Canyon National Park, Dinosaur National Monument and Canyonlands National Park, among others. He was the first ranger assigned to C&O National Historic Park when it was created in 1959.
“I was the lone ranger on a 180-mile canal from Washington D.C. to Cumberland, Maryland,” he said.
Iversen ended up at Glacier Park in 1974 and spent the next six years there until he retired in 1980. Besides dealing with bikes on the Sun Road, Iversen was superintendent when park officials decided to prohibit snowmobiling in the park. Iversen recalls a “hot debate” surrounding that episode.
Although he said Zion might be his favorite park, if only because it was his first, Glacier will always hold a special place in his heart, a love that began on the February day he arrived in West Glacier in 1974.
“I was so amazed by the fresh air and beauty of the place,” he said. “Every time I turned around I saw something new and spectacular.”
Iversen’s new book can be found at local bookstores and Amazon.com.