Glacier Park partner looks ahead to 2015

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Even though Glacier National Park Conservancy just wrapped up a successful summer season, the organization already is looking ahead to 2015 and beyond.

“This season, we pushed for collaboration in the park,” Conservancy President Mark Preiss said. “We’re looking forward to a future with a shared strategic plan, between us and the park.”

As the nonprofit fundraising partner for Glacier National Park, the Conservancy raises money for pressing projects in the park, such as educational stations, research or wilderness preservation. This year the largest project was the opening of the new Apgar Visitor Center, which opened its doors in May, and was made possible through collaboration with local businesses that donated time, skilled labor and materials.

The main issue the park will address in the next few years will be the growing number of daily visitors. This year saw the highest number of visitors ever in the park. At the end August, an estimated 1.88 million people had entered the park since Jan.1, a 5.7 percent increase over this time last year. At some points during the summer months, lines backed up so far that rangers at the West Glacier entrance began waving visitors through.

“Many days during the height of the summer, you’d be incredibly lucky to find a parking spot at Logan Pass, unless you got there at 7 a.m.,” Preiss said. “We need to start planning for 2015 and beyond to fix those kinds of things.”

The Conservancy hopes to work with department heads in the park to come up with a collaborative plan to help ease the flow of visitors.

The organization also will concentrate on replacing the first mile of cable handrail system along the Highline Trail at Logan Pass.

In the future, the organization will seek to honor businesses who donate time or funds with the title of “Glacier Champion.” The group wants to honor businesses that go above and beyond in donating not only money for park needs but also volunteer time for projects such as trail maintenance.

“It will help create a spirit of awareness,” said board member Bob Nystuen. “We want to get employees and customers aware of the park, or make a financial commitment.”

The idea is still in planning stages, but they expect to debut the title in December to some businesses who stood out during the 2014 season.

The group formed in 2013, when the Glacier Fund and Glacier Natural History Association merged to form a stronger, more strategic organization called the Glacier National Park Conservancy. The hope for the merger was to create a better partnership to support Glacier National Park to the highest of the organization’s abilities.

“This year, we’re light years ahead of where either organization was,” said board member Darrell Worm. “And we’re light years ahead of where either one could ever hope to be individually.”

This summer was the first full season for the Conservancy, and during that time they were able to donate funds to research and science, internships, educational programming and trail conservation.

The group’s main fundraiser, The Backpacker Ball,  raised nearly $190,000 for the park, according to Preiss, up more than $80,000 from last year’s net profits.

This year, the Conservancy also helped put on the inaugural One Day for Glacier, in which more than 150 business throughout the Flathead Valley donated funds from a single day of sales to Glacier National Park.  

“The park can’t do it on its own,” Preiss said. “It needs partners to help.”

Reporter Brianna Loper may be reached at 758-4441 or by email at bloper@dailyinterlake.com.

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