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A Vital Lifeline

Waterfalls and cascades—like the ones at Lunch Creek—draw many Glacier National Park hikers, photographers, and picnickers. Waterfall fanciers can find many scattered throughout the park. Some require a vigorous hike; others a short walk from a trailhead or parking area. They feed Glacier’s rivers, streams, and lakes; nurture wildlife (like the Bighorn Sheep that visit Lunch Creek in the evening); and irrigate the wildflowers, mosses, shrubs, and trees found throughout the park. And many of the cascades and waterfalls, particularly smaller ones, like those seen here at Lunch Creek, depend on the water slowly melting from glaciers and snowpack for their existence.

Unfortunately climate change has reduced winter snowpack and eliminated many of the glaciers that could once be seen in mountainous areas throughout the western United States.

In the Cascades, Rocky Mountains, and Eastern Sierras more winter precipitation has fallen as rain than snow in the last decade, reducing the amount of melting water available to wildlife and vegetation during spring and summer months; decreasing the volume of water pouring into the waterways that feed lakes and reservoirs; and diminishing the snow and ice coverage that would allow glaciers to grow or at least maintain their size.

Glacier National Park, named for its many glaciers, has just 25 dwindling glaciers remaining; down from the more than 150 glaciers found within the confines of the park in the mid-1800’s. In the Sierra Nevada range, only two glaciers—Lyell and Maclure—remain in Yosemite National Park, and both have retreated significantly over the last 150 years.

Will streams and tributaries like Lunch Creek continue to flow if winter snowpack diminishes further and glaciers retreat completely in the years ahead? Will the surviving glaciers survive the century? The next decade?