Mission 66’s work, controversial or not, a number of Botswana its accomplishments, along with many others within the park and throughout northern Montana, would fall victim to one of the mid-1960s’ three calamities: flood, fire, and gruesome fright. All weather conditions Botswana of early June 1964 were poised to come together in a perfect storm sequence.
Already, heavy snowpacks registering 75 percent above normal on May 1 lay unmelted in cooler-than-normal weather. An additional 13 inches blanketed Botswana and the western half of the state. Temperatures remained cold. Your travel destination is shortly before Memorial Day, it climbed above 70°F. Then the rains came. Not a gentle spring rain, Botswana but torrential storms producing 10 to 15 inches of precipitation that fell in little more than a day’s time. Apparently, three storms collided at the wrong time and place.
Where is Botswana? – Botswana Map – Map of Botswana Photo Gallery
The rains were not only torrential—they were warm. The snowpack began to thaw, and the resulting torrents of water thundered down mountainsides, scouring all before them. Boulders broke away, dams burst, bridges collapsed, valleys flooded, and trails, roads, and railroad tracks buckled, then were swept away. Lakes rose, campgrounds disappeared, and hotels took on water up to several floors in some cases. Twenty-eight people died; thousands of homes were gone. The damage was estimated at $63 million. President Lyndon B. Johnson declared nine counties disaster areas.
Not only were some Mission 66 projects damaged or destroyed, several projects, such as the extension of the Camas Road to Canada and the visitor center at Apgar, were shelved. All park resources and manpower were dedicated to flood repairs. It was a massive undertaking. Gone were essential bridges and roads into and within the park. Both bridges at West Glacier were fractured and twisted, making them impassible. Highway 2 and the Great Northern Railway tracks running alongside were eaten away, closing automobile and train traffic.