Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Name


Department or School/College

Department of History

Committee Chair

Jeff Wiltse

Commitee Members

Michael Mayer, Leif Fredrickson, David Beck, Bill Borrie


Army Corps of Engineers, Glacier National Park, Glacier View Dam, Montana, Wild Rivers, Wilderness


University of Montana


Conceived in the mid-1930s and formally proposed in 1943, the Glacier View Dam was an Army Corps of Engineers’ proposal for the North Fork of the Flathead River in northwestern Montana. This 416-foot tall dam would have provided inexpensive hydroelectric power to the region and helped control flooding on the volatile Columbia River watershed. Glacier View would also have flooded 20,000 acres of Glacier National Park, one of the “crown jewels” of the national park system. An ideologically diverse coalition of National Park Service officials, wilderness activists and outdoor recreation enthusiasts organized the defense of Glacier National Park and convinced both the Secretary of the Interior and Secretary of the Army to eliminate the Glacier View Dam from a multi-reservoir plan for the Columbia in 1949.

This dissertation looks at the defeat of the Glacier View Dam from several perspectives and argues that this little-known episode was a seminal moment in the environmental history of the United States. Proponents of the dam believed that Glacier View’s hydroelectric power would create an industrial center in western Montana and help reshape an extractive economy hard hit by the Great Depression, help prevent historic flooding in the region and help win World War Two and the Cold War.

One common alternative to Glacier View was the Paradise Dam on the Clark Fork River, still in the headwaters of the Columbia but outside of national park boundaries. Paradise, however, would have flooded 20,000 acres of the Flathead Indian Reservation, the treaty-guaranteed territory of the Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Kootenai peoples. These confederated Native Americans supported the construction of the Glacier View Dam to preserve their lands and economic base in western Montana.

The defeat of the Glacier View Dam was an important moment in the ascendance of the wilderness movement, one that preceded and inspired the more famous Echo Park Dam controversy in the 1950s. This controversy was an early instance where modern conceptions of wilderness swayed public policy in the United States and helped lead to the passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964 and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968.



© Copyright 2020 Shawn Patrick Bailey