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Unintended consequences of Glacier’s ticketed entry

by Daily Inter Lake
| September 18, 2021 12:00 AM

Glacier National Park achieved its intent with this summer’s ticketed entry system for Going-to-the-Sun Road.

By requiring a reservation to access the well-traveled scenic corridor, peak traffic volumes were more subdued compared to past summers, backups on U.S. 2 in West Glacier were mostly nonexistent and it eliminated the need to close the West Glacier entrance due to overcrowding.

In fact, new data from the park shows that between Memorial Day weekend through the end of August, there was a 12% decrease in vehicles on the Sun Road. Had the reservation system not been in place, the park estimates that it would have needed to close the West Entrance at least 35 times.

Park officials say ticketed entry succeeded in these regards, not to mention the overall visitor experience was likely improved with fewer drivers jockeying for parking spots and less crowding on the more popular trails.

Yet, there were some unintended consequences that must be considered as Glacier officials mull whether to implement a similar reservation system next summer.

First, the other access points to Glacier got hammered with traffic from visitors who didn’t have a Sun Road ticket.

Summer traffic at Two Medicine was up almost 33%, the highest on record according to the park, while visitation in the North Fork area was up almost 20% over 2019 numbers. Even the Goat Lick/Walton access off U.S. 2 saw a big jump in traffic.

It seems that while the ticket system plugged one hole, three other leaks cropped up in the process.

If Sun Road reservations continue in future summers, the Park Service has to be prepared for more wear and tear at other access points. This includes accessing whether more parking is needed, diverting park rangers to these areas, and improving or expanding facilities that aren’t adequate for this new level of visitation.

Another consequence of the reservation program was its impact on locals, who now must plan their Glacier trips months in advance and hope they get a coveted ticket, or get in line at 4 a.m. alongside the other lottery losers.

Sadly, gone are the days of heading over Logan Pass on weekend whim, or slipping into Apgar for a picnic lunch along Lake McDonald.

The park is currently holding discussions with stakeholders about the reservation system, and hopes to announce a decision by late fall.

Whether you loved it or loathed it, let the Park Service know your thoughts. Now is the time to speak up.