MISSOULA – Glacier National Park continues to set attendance records and it doesn’t look to slow down any time soon but with growth brings concerns about how to contain it.
We spoke with the higher-ups at Glacier for this week’s Face the State to see what they are doing to make visitor experiences as convenient as possible this summer.
Growth is usually a good thing but it can bring drawbacks and officials at Glacier are trying to find new ways to keep it under control after the park saw a record 3.3 million visitors last year.
Even one of the worst fire seasons in the state’s history wasn’t enough to stop it from beating the park’s previous record, set only the year before, at just over 2.9 million visitors.
Glacier Tourism Executive Director Racene Friede says the power of social media has helped, as a tool to keep visitors informed on current conditions and possible delays.
“Our visitors, for the most part, are not seeing any negative impacts from this. It’s all about managing expectations. And you’re talking to them and warning them about the things they need to look for, they anticipate that and work it into their trip," Friede ?said.
Glacier National Park Superintendent Jeff Mow says they have explored many possibilities to help address park overcrowding, including a reservation system for smaller areas of the park that were constantly at capacity last season.
“We won’t do a system-wide, or park-wide reservation system. I really think we’ll look at sort of reservations at those congestion areas," Mow said. "That’s not something we can do at Bowman Lake or Logan Pass but we could sort of experiment with that, like our campgrounds. Half is by reservation, half is first come, first serve. It’s all about finding that right balance.”
Mow says the shuttle service the park offers have been a big hit with guests and is often asked if the park would consider going to a shuttle-only system for popular areas like Going to the Sun Road.
But Mow explained that a study that Glacier National Park performed shows that would be difficult on “thru roads” like Going to the Sun.
“Shuttle systems work great if it’s one way in, one way out. Our current shuttle system is really maxed out in terms of ridership. Our ability to add shuttles to it, there’s the whole issue of cost of operation and ownership," Mow stated. "[It] really makes it pretty difficult to add buses and think that we’re going to fix the problem.”
Friede says when it comes to traveling to a popular spot like Glacier, planning is everything. And encourages anyone who plans to visit this year, to make sure they stay informed.
"We’re so proud of Glacier National Park, but we really want people to think ahead. We want them to pay attention to what’s going on and do your research. But we as locals want to enjoy it as much as our visitors," Friede said.
Park officials say they are expecting another big year and already set a monthly attendance record in May.
The full interview will air on Sunday, July 1 on Face the State at 6:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m.