In 2021, more people came to Glacier National Park on a single summer day than visited the million acre reserve during the entire 1921 season. For Home Secretary Albert Bacon Fall , that was a problem.
“Only 19,736 people visited Glacier Park in Montana in the last season,” Fall said in his annual report to Congress at the end of the year. “Glacier was one of the few parks that had fewer visitors this year than last year! ”
The previous year, more than 22,000 people visited the park. Fall, who was Home Secretary under President Warren G. Harding (and is best known for being embroiled in the Teapot Dome scandal), blamed the low number of visits to the lack of roads to the park and the high prices of train tickets, which was traditionally the most popular way to get to Glacier. At the time, US Highway 2 had yet to be built on the southern edge of the park, and the iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road was still in its infancy, although a few miles from the future route. were leveled to the west. aside and the government had set aside $ 100,000 for its construction.
Despite the below-par number of visits that year, many people came to the park, including residents of every state (six from Arkansas, nine from Delaware, 10 from Maine) and even from faraway countries like India, Japan and South Africa. What the park lacked on roads (other than a few on the east and west sides) it made up for in trails. Over 400 miles, in fact, went deep into the park and connected a series of wilderness cabins that had been built by the Great Northern Railway over the previous decade.
While the railroad was busy building cabins (and hotels) within the park boundaries, the National Park Service lagged behind in building its own structures. A poor fire season the previous year meant that money allocated for the construction of a new administration building at East Glacier Park that year was reallocated to firefighting efforts. In 1921, the Park Service caught up and built this building, along with a few others. Two ranger posts destroyed by fire in 1918 and 1919 were also rebuilt in 1921.
That year there were no serious accidents and no fatalities in the park. The worst thing that happened to a visitor was that a small child was injured falling from a horse (which was quite common in the park at that time). At least six people were fined for breaking park rules: two men were arrested for killing game and one for trapping. Two others were cited for breaking park guide regulations and a sixth was cited for breaking park automobile regulations (likely for speeding). “Many others who were also guilty have escaped detection and arrest and this condition will exist until more rangers are appointed,” wrote Superintendent JR Eakin.
Concluding his report, Eakin called for the federal government to spend more money on roads and infrastructure and increase the number of guards. He then thanked those who worked with him.
“Before I finish this report, I want to confess my indebtedness to those who helped start this work, and most of all thank the dealers who cooperated with me in various ways and the assistants who gave me so much of their time. and efforts, all of which have contributed greatly to improving the park in general and making it more enjoyable for visitors, ”he wrote.
This drop in attendance in 1921 will be short-lived. The following year, the number of visits skyrocketed to 23,935, the highest number in the park’s history at that time. Since then, its popularity has grown steadily.