Challenging times call for extreme measures, and thatís exactly the approach Glacier Park officials are taking with a new management plan for Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Inter Lake reporter Kianna Gardner details in todayís front-page story how the 184-page document takes a no-holds-barred approach to addressing the scenic highwayís crowding issues that engineers describe as ďnear capacity.í
About 3 million people visit the park each year, mostly by personal vehicle. This has created log jams of traffic along the Sun Road during the peak season between July and September, while parking spaces at popular trailheads and scenic points are stuffed to the gills.
The plan to rein in this overcrowding epidemic is varied and, in some cases, so brazen it would alter the Sun Road experience as itís always been known.
One of the most bold ideas revealed in the plan includes converting camping spaces at Avalanche Creek into parking spaces during peak season.
Another creative measure would limit hiking along the beloved Highline Trail to one-way between Logan Pass and Big Bend, along with a timed-entry permit system in order to manage use levels.
Other strong actions call for a parking permit system for Logan Pass for a percentage of the spaces, as well as construction of a new 100-car parking lot on the west side of the park and an expansion to parking near St. Mary on the east side. New shuttle stops would be brought online and more trails would be added in popular stopping points such as Lunch Creek and Siyeh Bend.
Interestingly, the plan doesnít take any measures to curb visitation, only to try to better manage visitors when they enter the Sun Road corridor.
As most locals will attest, overcrowding detracts from the overall Glacier experience, and park officials are wise to begin a public conversation about how to best address the problem before it gets worse. And while some of these proposed measures would severely change the way visitors experience the park, they might just be necessary given the vigor with which tourism officials continue to publicize Glacier as a bucket-list destination.
Letís not forget, Glacier visitation numbers increased by almost one million over the last two years alone. Let that sink in. If the park seems more crowded than it used to be, thatís because it most definitely is.
If you care about the future of Glacier, do your part and share your ideas and concerns about crowd management along the Sun Road. Comments on the plan can be submitted online on the National Park Service website.