Checkerboard pattern in Glacier NP?

I was doing random Google Map browsing - one of my favorite hobbies - and came across this oddball sight:

Even weirder, when you switch to satellite view, the checkerboard is still visible! It’s not obvious though - it almost looks natural. Very odd.

Any idea what the story is here?

WAG: the various source photos just coincidentally had a lot of cloud cover and they pieced the view together by selecting the best coverage of any given sector.

Sure doesn’t look like it, though - check out the trees here:,-113.796526&spn=0.004226,0.007789&t=h&z=17

Those are some distinct breaks in the trees, there.

I don’t think so, because it’s there in normal map view as well.

Railroad land grants were issued throughout the west in a typical checkerboard pattern formed by alternate sections, which is probably what you are seeing on the normal map, particularly as they are the right size for it. The satellite imagery is probably an artifact of some kind having to do with where the data is obtained from.

Private or state vs federal ownership of those tracts. In the pictures, it is quite apparent that the non-national forest tracts have been heavily logged.

As to why the property got divided in such a distinct pattern, I couldn’t say without more research. But it was not at all uncommon for land to be reserved in odd patterns like that when the Feds were dividing the territories. For example a certain percentage of land (3.3 million acres) in Utah was given to a trust. And all monies generated from this land goes to public education. You can see a map of the Utah school lands here (warning PDF). You can see similar checkerboard patterns in places on that map. I would assume some similar land grant program is in use here.

The scrub grass and brush is burned off in alternating square sections to provide an ideal environment for quail, creating natural feeding patches for the tasty birds. In the fall, it’s good huntin’.

Railroad land grants:

See “The Pacific Railroad Act of 1864” illustration about half way down on that page. They granted the railroads alternate sections from 10 to 20 miles either side of rail right of way.

I was going to ask how the heck a railroad works across a checker board but googling railroad land grants checkerboard explains it. Googling flathead national forest “land grants” got me this (PDF), which says:

The forested landscape of the Swan Valley is a checkerboard pattern of public and private ownership, a remnant of Federal land grants to railroads over 140 years ago. The majority of private land it held by PCTC, which acquired the land from the railroad in 1989, and has managed its holdings as an industrial forest.

I’m only assuming that’s the same place, since Swan Lake is just north of the checkerboard on the map, but for all I know, it could be another Swan Lake in a different state. Just scanning the pdf, I didn’t see anything to positively ID the location.

It’s a combination of the two. The national forest land will have undergone a different logging history (BTW, the national forest land is just as likely to have undergone heavy logging as the private land-- chances are all of the land in question has been logged at one point or another), but also I believe you’ll find that the imagery is different as well because the one of the aerial photo sources is the forest service and they only bother maintaining images of their own land. If you look at the area in Google Earth, you can use the imagery dates tool to change to imagery where there’s still clearly the difference in logging, but things like the roads look continuous.

Also, this isn’t actually in Glacier-- if it were it’d all be government land and there wouldn’t be this pattern. Also, even if it were exactly next to Glacier, it wouldn’t have the checkerboard because the Great Northern Railroad, which built the railroad that runs along the southern boundary of the park, didn’t take any government assistance so you they didn’t get the land grants yabob describes.

Here is a close up of timber clear cuts in a checkerboard pattern.