WEST GLACIER — Glacier National Park managers are starting their outreach and analysis of this year's efforts to ease congestion, including a pilot program requiring tickets for driving Going-to-the-Sun Road during the height of the season.
It was another busy year in Glacier National Park, with a continued rebound from last year's pandemic lockdowns that cut past visitor totals in half.
And while the totals of 2.3 million visitors by the end of August had already eclipsed 2020's 1.6-million visits, the totals are expected to fall short of the records set over the past five years, including the all-time record of 3.3 million people in 2017.
Continued pandemic impacts and even higher gas prices could be factors. The park notes a 12% drop in Going-to-the-Sun Road traffic but says that was in keeping with the goals of the ticketing system to trim congestion.
The congestion funneled elsewhere as Two Medicine traffic was up 33% and the North Fork saw a 20% spike. Those indicators have the US Senate looking at solutions for all parks, including Glacier, with a hearing on parks overcrowding in July.
"Because of the Senate hearing that took place and was sponsored by Senator Daines we know that we have to do something about congestion management in the park," Glacier National Park spokeswoman Gina Kerzman told MTN News. "So what we're going through right now is that we're meeting with a lot of stakeholder groups.
"We're meeting with our partner agencies who are also managing land in Montana and having overcrowding issues. We're meeting with businesses, chambers of commerce, and just our partners in the community to get their feedback before we make any decisions about what 2022 is going to look like," Kerzman continued.
In addition to getting that input from the stakeholders, US Park Service personnel will spend the next several months analyzing the data from the summer ticketing system, to see what improvements and changes might be made for 2022.
The numbers provide some new insight to be analyzed. Last year, Going-to-the-Sun had 28 closures because of overcrowding, and the park estimates there would have had to be 35 closures this year without tickets.
"Right now we're looking at the data that we gathering during the pilot ticketed entry program in the 2021 season. And just really learned a lot from that pilot. Some things that maybe we can tweak and make better," Kerzman explained.
Glacier National Park's traffic volumes remained strong throughout the past few weeks, and with traditional management, in place, after ticketing ended on Labor Day, Going-to-the-Sun Road had three closures in the two weeks after the program ended.