Local visitor center to open in W. Glacier

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The Whitefish Chamber of Commerce has taken the lead in establishing a visitor information center in West Glacier where all area Chambers of Commerce can promote their communities to Glacier National Park visitors.

The visitor center will open July 1 in the old Belton train station that houses the Glacier National Park Conservancy’s main book store, gift shop and information center.

“This really is a partnership with the Conservancy,” Whitefish Chamber Director Kevin Gartland said. “The benefit is to all of us. We want to promote all of our areas well.

“We know that 99.9 percent of the folks who visit Whitefish in the summer and fall spend some time in Glacier National Park,” he said. “But not everyone who visits Glacier finds their way to Whitefish. We estimate we get 500,000 visitors in Whitefish; the park gets 3 million. If we can turn 10,000 or 20,000 folks in our direction, that’s huge.”

Gartland pointed out how the province of Alberta, Canada, has long recognized the value of having a visitor information center in West Glacier that encourages visitors to expand their travels into Canada.

The plan is to have the Chamber visitor center staffed at least four hours a day during the summer season. The Whitefish and Columbia Falls Chambers of Commerce each have committed to staffing the center for two days a week. Gartland said he’s meeting with the Bigfork Chamber next week and also will talk to Kalispell Chamber officials about staffing opportunities.

“We’re working our way through it this first year,” Gartland said. “We want to have it staffed seven days a week.”

The Chamber visitor center will offer a video display, maps and brochures and will be accessible on a self-serve basis during unstaffed hours. The Conservancy store is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week, and Conservancy staff will be able to help visitors during the times the Chambers don’t have staff there, Gartland said.

It’s the intent of the Chambers and the Conservancy to promote all Flathead County communities equally, he added.

As the nonprofit fundraising organization for Glacier National Park, the Conservancy strives to enhance the Glacier Park experience by providing financial support for preservation, education and research. Outreach is a big part of the Conservancy’s work, and Conservancy Chief Executive Officer Mark Preiss said he sees the benefit of collaborating with the Chambers of Commerce.

“The Conservancy has been working hard to engage our gateway communities,” Preiss said. “We’re already providing orientation to visitors. This is more effective and deeper orientation and this [collaboration] gives us a way to do that more effectively.”

Both Gartland and Preiss said the Conservancy also will benefit from increased traffic and exposure.

“This is an emerging project,” Preiss said about the Chamber collaboration. “Last year we did for the first time the One Day for Glacier campaign. That was to rally the communities and that was endorsed by every Chamber. This [visitor center] is the next level of that partnership.”

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or by email at lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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