Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Glacier National Park officials seek public comments on access, ticketed entry system

by Taylor Inman - Hagadone News Network
| August 18, 2023 11:35 AM

Glacier National Park officials are asking for public comments on its pilot vehicle reservation system amid renewed scrutiny of the program in recent months.

Comments and concerns will be accepted through Sept. 30, according to a press release issued by the park’s administration earlier this week. Officials plan to use the information gathered to inform their approach to operations in 2024 and the upcoming summer season in particular.

The park will host a series of virtual and in-person public meetings in late August to review data collected during the pilot program’s implementation. Officials will be on hand to field questions from the public.

Glacier National Park is in the third summer of its pilot vehicle reservation system, which was first implemented for the Going-to-the-Sun Road and later expanded to include other major entrances. Initiated in summer 2021, the reservation system served as a response to increasing issues with traffic congestion, including backups onto U.S. 2, infrastructure capacity and the effect on park resources from high concentrations of people in its most popular areas.

Since the park initiated the system, officials have collected and analyzed visitor use data, as well as comments and observations from area residents and others to refine the parameters of the reservation system, according to a release from park officials.

“We have learned a lot from the last three years of pilot reservation systems,” said park Superintendent Dave Roemer in a statement. “We’d like to hear from the public about what has worked, what hasn’t worked and what ideas they have for managing high visitation at Glacier for 2024.”

“We are listening, and truly need that input before we begin to develop a strategy for next summer,” he added.

Annual visitation at Glacier National Park has increased from approximately 1.5 million to over 3 million over the past two decades, according to statistics gathered by the National Park Service. Officials said much of this use is concentrated along the Going-to-the-Sun Road corridor and other front-country destinations during the peak season, which spans from June through September.

While park officials maintain that the reservation system has improved visitor experience, critics like U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke contend the program limits access to area residents, among other concerns. Zinke has emerged as an outspoken opponent of the pilot program and introduced an amendment to the fiscal year 2024 Interior, Environment and Related Agencies funding bill that would remove the system.

Park officials argue that the data they have collected show that local residents still enjoy access to Glacier and have certain advantages over visitors, such as planning for the weather and entering the park year-round.

A virtual meeting will take place Aug. 23 from 6 to 8 p.m. A link to join can be found by going to: https://tinyurl.com/455hcj9j.

An open house will be held at the St. Mary Visitor Center on Aug. 28 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Another open house will take place at the Cedar Creek Lodge in Columbia Falls on Aug. 29 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Roemer said in the release that the goal of their efforts is to provide the best possible access while protecting the park and ensuring visitors have meaningful and enjoyable experiences.