Glacier Park Boat Co. makes progress on restoring historic boat
The Sinopah was sent to the shop in Columbia Falls for a complete overhaul in September 2019.

Restoration is underway on a nearly 100-year-old boat from the Glacier Park Boat Company. Once it’s finished, visitors to the park will get to enjoy a piece of history with some new upgrades.

Glacier Park Boat Company dates back to 1938, when Arthur J. Burch purchased the contract to provide tour boat services in Glacier National Park from J.W. Swanson.

Today, Arthur J. Burch’s grandson, Scott Burch, owns the historic tour boat company.

With each change of hands, the Burch family continues to keep alive the long tradition of operating their business at the park while keeping it all in the family.

The company offers a variety of boat tours on St. Mary Lake at Rising Sun, Lake McDonald, Two Medicine and Many Glacier

Due to COVID-19, the company decided to shut down operations for 2020 and focused their time on a restoration project on one of the boats in their fleet.

The Sinopah was sent to the shop in Columbia Falls for a complete overhaul in September 2019.

Craftsmen have already put 3,000 hours of work into the project, and Scott Burch said it will take many more before they can get it back to the park.

The Sinopah was originally constructed in 1926 by Billy Swanson, and it now glides on the waters of Two Medicine Lake in Glacier National Park.

The boat was originally named Little Chief and operated on St. Mary Lake. It was bought by the Glacier Park Boat Company in the 1940s, moved to Two Medicine Lake and rechristened Sinopah.

Burch said the 45-foot carvel planked launch with cedar on an oak frame is authorized by the U.S. Coast Guard to carry 49 passengers.

The Sinopah is just one of six in their fleet. Cruising through Glacier National Park waters alongside the Sinopah are Little Chief, Desmet, Morning Eagle, Chief Two Guns and Joy.

Burch said he’s been around these boats his whole life and they are a part of the family. The classic wooden boats take endless hours of work to maintain their original splendor.

Currently, the Sinopah is undergoing sanding, ahead of a new paint job and other cosmetic upgrades.

In the coming weeks, the crew will be putting the windows back on the boat.

The boats are kept in boathouses at the park year-round, only coming to dry land at the shop when they need to be worked on.

Burch said he cherishes everything about his job -- the history, the renovation projects, his staff and crew, the list goes on. He truly sees the value in his boats. To him, they are priceless.

Burch said his fleet of boats is just as much Glacier National Park as the mountain goats that roam the mountains.

He said all through the park you can see evidence of construction -- buildings, roads, trails, and everything else that has made a mark on the landscape.

“These boats have traveled millions of miles, they’ve carried millions of people over the years, and when you go to the park today, there is absolutely no evidence of their presence,” said Burch.

With the complete overhaul on the Sinopah and other countless restoration projects, Burch hopes their boats will travel a million more miles and carry a million more people throughout Glacier National Park to experience the beauty from a whole new perspective.

Burch is happy to say the boats will run at full capacity this summer with COVID-19 measures put in place.

They recently signed a new 10-year contract with the Park Service that extends their operations through 2029.

For more information or to book an excursion, click here

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