Saturday, November 28, 2020

Glacier reservation idea should be put on hold

| July 19, 2020 1:00 AM

Glacier National Park officials last week floated the idea of a ticketed entry system to help manage crowds along Going-to-the-Sun Road this summer.

The park has been slammed with visitors since the scenic highway opened to vehicles from the west entrance to Logan Pass and as far as Rising Sun. There is no east side access this summer, meaning vehicles using the Sun Road must enter and exit through the same point.

Parking at Logan Pass and Avalanche Creek has regularly been filling up by 8 a.m., and on a few occasions Glacier even had to close the west side gate to manage overcrowding.

To alleviate the congestion that’s become a perennial issue, park officials are exploring the idea of requiring a reservation for entry to the park at West Glacier. Tickets would be available online, with half being available up to 30 days in advance and the remaining tickets being released two days in advance.

Yosemite National Park in California already has a similar system in place, and visitor reviews are overwhelmingly positive.

“Our visit to Yosemite was truly a wonderful experience,” one commenter wrote on Yosemite’s web-page. “Due to COVID the park requires reservations and isn’t crowded at all.”

“I wish the national park always required reservations to reduce the number of people at them or at least during peak season,” another wrote. “This was truly one of my best experiences at a national park.”

Out of 177 reviews on Yosemite’s ticketed entry system, 143 rated it at five stars.

Clearly, it’s a concept worth exploring at Glacier given the explosive growth in visitation over the last decade.

However, now is not the time to throw yet another wrench at the local business community that is still reeling from the effects of COVID-19. They said as much during a series of calls between the park and area chambers of commerce last week.

Park Superintendent Jeff Mow characterized the response from local businesses as “tepid” for a reservation system. With the uncertainty of this summer season due to COVID-19 setbacks and evolving rule changes, rolling out a new a system this late in the game would be problematic for businesses that already have lost several months of revenue.

It’s not that the business community is outright rejecting the idea — some even said they welcome the concept. But Glacier is undeniably the economic engine of our region, and now is not the time to tinker with a force so many of our local businesses depend upon.

Let’s keep the conversation going and weigh all the pros and cons, so that come next summer the park can make a well-considered decision about what’s best for Glacier, the visitor experience and local residents.