Irrigation Project Introduces HDPE to Glacier Park Lodge in Montana

108-year-old historic hotel transitions water source for iconic front garden

There is a rich history etched in Montana’s Rocky Mountains and the areas that surround it, a bygone era that marked the beginning of The Great Northern Railway, and its creation of lodges nestled among one of the most beautiful places on Earth, Glacier National Park.  Even today visitors still arrive by train in East Glacier and are transported by bus to the historic, Glacier Park Lodge, which is part of Glacier Park Collection by Pursuit.

With its pristine landscape, a picture-perfect mountain view, and proximity to vast wilderness, Glacier Park Lodge is a traveler’s dream.  Still holding true to the simplicity of earlier days, the lodge has no television or workout rooms, and this sits well with the millions of guests who are looking to connect with the great outdoors.  Glacier Park Lodge is known for its views, showcasing the beauty of the mountains. 

Every summer, the lodge attracts seasonal workers of all ages, from young adults to retirees, who are interested in adventure and spending their days among the mountain canvas.  One such summertime adventurer is retired McElroy Engineer, Jim Perrault.  He and his wife recently spent their first summer working at Glacier Park Lodge.

Jim, as part of the maintenance team, and his wife tending to the breath-taking gardens.  Avid adventurers, they typically travel across the country in their RV during the summer months, and when they found out they could pair working at the lodge, with setting up camp in Glacier National Park, they set out for an unforgettable experience. 

The Right Place at the Right Time

Named by USA Today as one of the top 10 best lodges in America’s national park system, Glacier Park Lodge prides itself on preservation and protecting the environment.  Up until this past summer, the lodge was using drinking water to irrigate its spacious front lawn and garden.  Local water authorities informed them that, due to water scarcity, they would need to discontinue using the treated water and find an alternate way to irrigate the garden.

They did not have to look too far for another water source.  The nearby Midvale Creek Dam water that is sourced from the melting snow caps of the mountains, is raw, creek water currently being used to irrigate the lodge’s nine-hole golf course. With an elevation difference of 149 feet between the creek and the front of the lodge, no pump is needed due to the gravity flow, and there is plenty of water pressure. This is part of Glacier Park Lodge’s concerted efforts to conserve the drinking water for East Glacier and the surrounding areas.

Given Jim’s previous experience with HDPE (high-density polyethylene pipe) and underground construction he offered his help to change the garden’s water source.  The maintenance team was unfamiliar with HDPE, so Jim explained the benefits and how it could work for this irrigation project.

Introduction to HDPE

With the greenlight to move forward with HDPE, Jim immediately contacted High Country Fusion, a division of Consolidated Pipe & Supply Company, Inc. to secure the necessary pipe, fittings and fusion equipment for the job.  Division President David Hanks was excited to learn they would be providing materials for Glacier Park Lodge, a place where he and many of his colleagues have had the privilege of visiting in the past.  David says it is great to be part of something that is extending the life of our National Parks. “Glacier National Park offers one of the most unique landscapes in the world, from the mountains to the valleys, it is such a beautiful locale.  With the harsh winters in Montana, and the constant freeze and thaw cycles the state’s infrastructure goes through, HDPE is exactly what is needed for this extreme environment.  The goal is to put something in the ground that will last for generations to come.” 

High Country Fusion provided 1,160’ of 4” DR11 HDPE pipe and fittings, and a McElroy Pit Bull® 14 to complete the butt fusions.  The Pit Bull 14 is one of McElroy’s compact, lightweight manual fusion machines that fuses pipe from 1” IPS to 4” IPS (32mm to 100mm) pipe.  While a simple machine to use, it features a patented Centerline Guidance System and fuses tees, elbows and other fittings with consistent, high-quality results.  Jim provided the operator training for the Glacier Park Lodge maintenance team.  The project entailed fusing of the sticks of pipe, disconnecting the lodge’s front lawn and garden from the treated water, connecting to the creek water, and then burying the pipeline.  The new installation of the HDPE is making a bridge between the two different systems by using part of the infrastructure underground in the front lawn and back feeding the other end with the creek water through the HDPE pipe.  After the lawn and plants absorb the water, any surplus will go right back into the Midvale Creek.

Future Project: Replacing Wood Water Pipe

The timing of this project was crucial because it had to be completed between the season ending and lodge workers leaving for winter.  The completion of this HDPE irrigation project was an introduction, allowing the lodge to get comfortable with thermoplastic pipe because there are other projects on the horizon.  One such project is the replacement of the 10” wood pipe that supplies all the creek water from the Midvale Creek Dam.  This wood pipeline used to be the main drinking source for the lodge, however now it is only used to irrigate the landscape and golf course.  Previously it was sized to meet the capacity of the drinking water needs, however now it can be downsized.  As Jim explained, “when it comes to doing the repair, we can slip line 8” HDPE, because this water source is now only being used for the front lawn, garden, and golf course. In addition, HDPE pipe fits the bill for this project because of the flexibility of the pipe to adapt to the winding paths without the use of additional fittings.”

Decisions Today Impact Tomorrow

“This is truly an opportunity to take the lodge to the next level.  For Glacier Park Collection by Pursuit to take the initiative to implement HDPE into the infrastructure of the 108-year-old Glacier Park Lodge is an example of one of the many sustainable products being used at the lodge.  Not to mention, HDPE pipe has a long life span up to 100 years, fused pipe joints, and zero water leakage.  It’s a testament to how infrastructure engineering can change when everyone is committed and it paves the way for innovative thinking and the possibility for similar upgrades to other National Parks throughout the country,” says David Hanks.

The concept of this lodge and the others that are dotted along the mountain skyline came from big thinkers, and creative minds, who wanted to impact the future.  With conservation and preservation at its core, this landmark is a treasure, and these planned upgrades to the infrastructure will take them to the next century and beyond.