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Route Fifty Roadmap: A Dispatch From a Remote U.S.-Canada Border Post

At the U.S.-Canada border crossing at Goat Haunt, Montana.

At the U.S.-Canada border crossing at Goat Haunt, Montana. Timothy B. Clark / RouteFifty.com

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

More than 15 years after 9/11 brought changes to border security at the first International Peace Park, this part of Montana and beyond is dealing with another challenge: seasonal labor shortages.

Route Fifty Roadmap is an ongoing series of dispatches from the semi-regular travels of the Route Fifty staff around the United States. | PREVIOUSLY: Missoula, Mont.

GOAT HAUNT, Mont. — This backwoods border crossing between Canada and the United States serves as a continuing reminder of the security state that has emerged in the United States since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that killed nearly 3,000 Americans.

As I visited the robustly staffed Goat Haunt ranger station just a few days after the 15th anniversary of 9/11, local newspapers were full of remembrances of the attacks and their aftermath. That and local businesses’ struggle to hire seasonal staff—requiring much temporary hiring from abroad—were the stories of the day.

Goat Haunt offers not only reminders of war but also of peace. Most visitors travel by boat to reach this destination, a scenic ride from the Canadian side of Waterton Lake, and they debark just below a pavilion celebrating creation in 1932 of the first International Peace Park.

“The world was wrapped in the stifling blanket of depression, famine, and anguish left by the Great War,” reads a plaque in the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park structure. To “shine a beacon of light,” Rotarians from Montana and Alberta met at the Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton on July 4,1931 to propose the park, and a year later the Canadian Parliament and the U.S. Congress passed laws to establish it. Their action served as precedent for more than 170 similar multi-nation parks that have since been established. The Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, for example, embraces parts of Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe. The Red Sea Marine Peace Park stretches through the waters of Israel and Jordan, and the Si-A-Paz Park runs across the borders of Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

The International (Photo by Timothy B. Clark / RouteFifty.com)

Traveling from Waterton to Goat Haunt aboard The International, oldest wooden boat currently certified by the U.S. Coast Guard, one passes over the transnational border. To both east and west, a 20-foot “slash” of deforestation stretch up the mountains, clearly demarking the border. Maintained by the International Boundary Commission, the slash runs through 1,349 miles of forested land along the 5,525-mile border between the two countries.

A paved path leads from the International Peace Pavilion to the Goat Haunt Ranger station. Hikers coming by boat who want to trek into Glacier National Park and further destinations in the United States must check in here. For a time after 9/11, the station was closed by U.S. authorities fearful of terrorist infiltration. But that blocked legitimate travelers, and so in May 2003 the crossing was reopened after park rangers there were deputized as customs and border patrol officials.

Today, said one ranger, the station is staffed by nine rangers during the season, living and working in a small complex of buildings at the south end of the lake. As I was, there a party of hikers was just returning from a two-hour walk led by a tall, rangy interpretive ranger.

A slightly incongruous sight greeted us just behind a lakeside Park Service structure: two blue-uniformed Customs and Border Patrol officials sitting at a picnic table in the great outdoors, at the ready with a computer to check on people wanting admission to the United States. They were a husband-and-wife team, who travel to work from the Piegan border crossing  some 45 minutes from Waterton, then take a fast boat across the lake to their al fresco office. They are linked by satellite to CPB databases, enabling them to deter the bad guys from entering.

The CPB people told me that on a busy day they checked in about 100 travelers. They wouldn’t say much more than that without clearance from public information colleagues. And they didn’t want me to use their names. One said he’d given a CPB hat to his father, but then implored him not to wear it for fear that both of them would become targets of terrorists.

So do you need a passport to get in? Generally the answer is yes—just as you need a passport to cross into Canada these days. But the State Department is now issuing a so-called PASS card that acts as a passport for people traveling between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, or the Caribbean. And states have been working with the Department of Homeland Security to developed “enhanced drivers licenses” that can also serve as valid entry cards, linking to CPB databases, at land and sea (but not airport) border crossings. At the moment, only Washington state, Vermont, New York, and Michigan are fully up and running with EDLs. Arizona, Texas, and California are making progress with their programs, according to a recent report from DMV.org, an independent web site.

Approaching Goat Haunt border crossing (Timothy B. Clark / RouteFifty.com)

At the grand old Prince of Wales hotel at the head of Waterton Lake, and at the huge and elegant Glacier Park Lodge in Montana just east of the park boundary, we found ourselves served by people of many nations—as far away as Turkey and even Japan, from Eastern Europe and elsewhere. We had no reason to think they hadn’t been fully vetted for their seasonal jobs that conferred visas some said lasted about four months. Still, the ever-present concern about terrorism evident at Goat Haunt—and the urgent concern about the availability of jobs for American youth now at the forefront of the presidential campaigns—served to stress the irony of their presence.

Donald Trump has imported people on these kinds of visas to work at his Mar-a-Lago Golf Club in Palm Beach, Florida—and has asserted that no Americans would fill his jobs. The same concerns are found in Montana’s Flathead Valley, adjacent to Glacier National Park. On Sept. 11, the front page of the Daily Inter Lake declared that “Workforce Woes Vex Local Businesses.”

As part of a 20-stop tour of the state, the Montana Chamber of Commerce had convened leaders of Bigfork, a tourist destination on Flathead Lake, to discuss the needs of local businesses. Covering the event, the newspaper reported:

Heather Burnham, with the Bigfork Chamber of Commerce, said the village had an extended tourist season this summer. But, she said Bigfork is facing the same issue weighing on businesses across the state.  

“There’s a lack of a workforce and people leaving and people not wanting to do the jobs that we need to fill,” State Sen. Bob Keenan, R-Bigfork, said a lack of workers concerns him as a representative and as the owner of The Bigfork Inn.

“I just put three Jamaican girls on an airplane to go back to Jamaica because I can’t find any American kids that want to wash dishes in the summer,” Keenan said. “We’re chasing away business in my restaurant because I don’t have the employees to take care of the people.” 

Whether from home or abroad, the people staffing the hotels, restaurants and other facilities in the communities in and around Glacier Park are heading elsewhere now that the season is over. For example, the two bartenders at the Prince of Wales hotel are off to Australia, where they’ll be running a new Japanese-style restaurant during the tourist season there.

And this is also true of the park rangers and customs and border patrol officials who staff the Goat Haunt outpost. They are heading for winter assignments in California and elsewhere in the national park system and border control facilities.

Timothy B. Clark is Editor-at-Large at Government Executive’s Route Fifty.

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