September 16 – Officials said Thursday that Glacier National Park welcomed more than 2.35 million visitors from the start of the year to the end of August, down from the park hosted in the same eight-month period in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
Park officials also said they made a mistake in a previous announcement regarding opening day traffic on Going-to-the-Sun Road. In July, the park issued a press release incorrectly reporting a 41% increase in traffic on Sun Road during the opening day of the 2019 pre-pandemic visitor season. In fact, said officials Thursday, the number of vehicles on the road was only 10% higher this year.
“In our attempt to use real-time data to monitor traffic on Going-to-the-Sun Road, we discovered a data error that made it appear that we had a larger increase in traffic compared to to 2019, ”Pete Webster, the park’s acting director, said in a statement. “Although the increase reported in July is not accurate, all paid admissions met the targets we set for ourselves.”
Glacier implemented a paid entry reservation system for the Sun Road this year with the aim of reducing traffic jams inside the park, preventing long lines of vehicles from backing up on US 2 and d ” eliminate the need to close the entrance to West Glacier each time the park reaches capacity.
Officials say the system has been successful in this regard, although it has caused headaches for many locals and visitors who have struggled to get the $ 2 bills on recreation.gov. They have not yet announced whether the system will be implemented again next year.
“Park officials will use the information gathered during the 2021 pilot project to determine how to move forward in 2022,” they said in a statement Thursday. “The park is holding discussions with stakeholders and hopes to announce a decision by the end of the fall.”
The Route du Soleil remained open for the three months that the reservation system was in effect. But since the end of September 6, officials said they had to close the west entrance three times to avoid traffic jams – once on September 7, once on September 8 and again on Tuesday.
Officials last year said they had to close the Scenic Drive 28 times between June 8 and September 9 to avoid traffic jams, and they believe that number would have been higher this year if the reservation had not been in effect.
“Based on the number of vehicles arriving, in the absence of a paid entry system, the park most likely would have had to close the west entrance gate at least 35 times during the summer season,” said the park in its press release. “It also assured visitors with an entrance ticket that they could enter the park rather than being turned away due to the closure of the west entrance due to congestion and traffic jams.”
The reservation system seemed to limit overall park attendance. Authorities reported that the number of vehicles on Sun Road from Memorial Day weekend to the end of August was 12% lower than in 2019.
“On average, 19% of vehicles arrived at West Glacier and St. Mary’s entrances without a Going-to-the-Sun entrance ticket or other reservation between Memorial Day and Labor Day,” officials said. . “That number continued to drop and was closer to 14% at the end of the season. Each diverted visitor had the opportunity to speak to a ranger and receive information on how to experience the park without a ticket.”
Parkwide, the number of visitors through August was calculated at 2,354,475, about 3.8% lower than in 2019.
“While vehicle entry on the Going-to-the-Sun route has declined this year, alternative park entrances have seen an increase in visits, resulting in frequent closures,” officials said. “June-August vehicle entries at Two Medicine are up almost 33%, the highest on record, and North Fork by almost 20% from 2019 numbers.”
Some numbers have been difficult to calculate this year as construction work caused a traffic meter to malfunction on Many Glacier Road in June and July. Officials said the device has been repaired and data will be collected for the remainder of the season.
“Alternative calculations based on the number of trails and visits for the current year and the previous year had to be developed to estimate the number of traffics, which delayed the park’s communication of visit statistics for June. and July, ”officials said.
Associate Editor Chad Sokol can be reached at 406-758-4439 or [email protected]