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Public has plenty of opinions on Glacier reservation system

by CHRIS PETERSON
Editor | September 6, 2023 2:00 AM

There were plenty of ideas on Glacier National Park’s reservation system expressed during an open house in Columbia Falls last week — but sometimes they were worlds apart.

Several local residents wanted the reservation system done away with entirely. One man, for example, suggested the park should include a reservation for locals when they bought an annual pass. Still others thought the reservation system should be slanted more to visitors and paying guests — not locals.

One businessperson said people weren’t booking at her establishment if they couldn’t get a pass ahead of time. But she’s booked the last three weeks on September — when the reservation system ends. She suggested maybe Glacier consider a timed entry system, where people are allowed in during certain times a day based on their pass. This could also ease problems at Logan Pass, where the parking lot there is full early every morning, as people make a dash up the Sun Road in the summer months to get there even before a reservation is required at 6 a.m.

Another person had concerns about Internet availability inside the park, which the system largely relies on to book a reservation.

For example, one woman said she booked a night in Many Glacier, but she had to leave the park to Babb, where there’s Internet access, to try to get a reservation for the Going-to-the-Sun Road the next day.

The Many Glacier Hotel, she said, doesn’t give up its wifi password to anyone except guests.

Park officials, for the most part, simply listened and answered questions.

Glacier Superintendent David Roemer noted that some ideas would take an act of Congress — for example, allowing locals to have a Sun Road reservation when they buy a pass isn’t possible now — it’s a national park, and thus, open to anyone, regardless of where they live.

Recreation.gov, the website that runs the reservation system, can adjust reservation ability by Zip code, Roemer noted in passing, but it has not done so in Glacier, and the park has no plans to do that, he stressed.

The Park continues to tweak the reservation system, Roemer noted. For example, more reservations were made available in August as a result of studying visitor use patterns, and they proved fairly easy to get 24 hours in advance.

Still, the park has had to turn folks away. In 2022, about 15% to 20% of visitors at the West Entrance were turned away, but this year that figure has been lower, about 12% said Glacier social scientist Susan Sidder.

Plotted on a graph, park visitation rises in the morning and makes a gentle curve upward, then has a big spike — at 3 p.m. when a reservation isn’t needed.

Still, Roemer noted that this summer, the park hasn’t had to close any entrances this summer after 3 p.m. due to overcrowding.

Whatever the opinion on the system, plenty of people were weighing in — the park comment website had more than 800 comments in just a few days.

Roemer said the park would analyze the comments and the data from this summer and make a decision on next year’s system he hoped by this fall.

He did all but promise one thing: The Sun Road would be paved from the foot of Lake McDonald to the North Lake McDonald Road by this fall.

There were plenty of complaints about driving through the construction zone this summer, as it was either too dusty or too muddy.

“There will be asphalt on the road before winter,” he said. “Everything will be nice and level when it’s done.”

Crews were expected to start doing test patches soon, if they hadn’t started already.

Folks can comment on the reservation system until Sept. 30 at: https://parkplanning.nps.gov/ then click on Glacier National Park Visitor Use Management.

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