Close campgrounds at Avalanche Creek to make way for more parking if need be. Set up a permit system to park at Logan Pass. Make part of the Highline Trail a one-way route. Expand the park’s free shuttle system to include more stops with longer hours. Use an old baseball field for more parking.
Those are just some of Glacier National Park’s plans to manage the Going-to-the-Sun Road corridor in the future as the park has seen increasing traffic on the road in the past few years.
Glacier has seen visitation rise to roughly 3 million people a year, with most of them coming from mid-June to mid-September. At times, the Sun Road can be bumper-to-bumper traffic and the road is close to getting an what the Park Service terms as an “F” rating. Right now, it’s often a “D” or “E” rating the park notes.
However, the plan doesn’t take any measures to curb visitation to the Park, only to try to manage when it gets there.
Key details of the 180-page plus document include:
• Create a parking permit system for Logan Pass and the St. Mary-Virginia Falls trailheads for a percentage of the spaces. Some permits would be available “same day,” others could be reserved online. The Park would use an “adaptive management approach” meaning the system would change as conditions and demand warranted. The park would also look to making parking in the entire corridor “day use” only during peak season, with no overnight parking. People heading into the backcountry overnight from one of the 26 trails along the road would likely have to use the shuttle service. All told, the Park estimates there’s about 2,100 parking spaces, which includes all of the turnouts, along the road.
• The plan gets even more interesting around Avalanche Creek, where the Park could close the entire campground if need be and use it for parking. To wit: “If parking demand during peak season increases, close the campground to camping during peak season only and use all the sites for parking. Use the currently abandoned campground loop for parking and construct a secondary road segment to connect the abandoned loop to loop A. This would provide approximately 57 parking spaces in the abandoned loop; an additional approximately 100 parking spaces in the remainder of campground loop A; and approximately 120 parking spaces in loop B. Parking in these loops would only occur within the existing footprint,” the document states.
“Collectively, these proposed actions would add up to approximately 400 additional parking spaces in the corridor, for a total of approximately 2,400 spaces,” the authors note.
In addition, the Park plans to “harden” the surface of the Avalanche Creek Trail to Avalanche Lake, which is about 2.5 miles. A parking permit system could eventually be implemented at Avalanche as well.
The plan also has an interesting take on the Highline Trail, making it a one-way route from Logan Pass to Big Bend if visitation breaches Park thresholds. Theoretically, a hiker would have to make it to Big Bend and back down to the road. They wouldn’t be allowed to turn around (though they could travel from, say, Granite Park to Big Bend).
The park would build a new trail from Big Bend back down to the Sun Road and put in a temporary vault toilet at the road.
The Park is also proposing other new trails to accommodate crowds, including a trail from Lunch Creek along the road to Logan Pass. Another possible trail would run from Siyeh Bend to Lunch Creek. All told, the plan could add up to five miles of new trails.
• In the parking realm, the plan proposes to take a construction staging area off the Quarter Circle Bridge Road, expand it, and make it into a 100-car parking lot. The park also wants to expand parking at the St. Mary entrance station and at the 1913 Ranger Station in St. Mary, with a bike path that runs from the ranger station to the entrance.
All told, the park estimates that about 6 more acres of the Park would be paved under the plan.
• With the shuttle, the park will look to expand stops along the Sun Road and nearby campgrounds, but it doesn’t call for more stops outside the corridor, say to Many Glacier or other areas of the park. It also looks to expand service from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. daily during the summer months.
The document glosses over the fact that when the plan had initial public scoping in 2013, it was going to be an environmental impact statement — a much more rigorous form of review with more alternatives and a closer look at impacts.
But the Park Service dismisses that.
“In November 2017, a determination was made that an environmental impact statement was not necessary since none of the impacts were significant,” the document claims, though it doesn’t explain how it came to that determination.
Since then, however, the park has had plenty of problems with crowds, particularly with grizzly bears near Granite Park Chalet. The Highline Trail, by the Park’s own studies, sees just more than 750 hikers a day through prime grizzly bear habitat and at one point this summer, the park had to close all the trails that went to the chalet because of grizzly bear encounters.
The park admits the plan could result in even more impacts.
“The use of new trails, future implementation of adaptive management actions, and the associated temporary and increased levels of noise, in combination with continued high traffic volume and human activity, including increased use during the shoulder seasons, may alter the behavior of bears, Canada lynx, and wolverine causing increased levels of displacement or habituation of individual animals, increased risk of vehicle-animal collisions, and additional impacts to foraging habitat,” the authors of the plan concede.
A public meeting will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 17 at Flathead Valley Community College Arts and Technology Building No. 139 from 6-8:30 p.m. on the plan.
The comment period is also open until Oct. 6.
Comments can be made at: https://parkplanning.nps.gov/document.cfm?parkID=61&projectID=47660&documentID=98289