What a summer we had in Glacier National Park. Just look at the numbers. Before the Going-to-the-Sun Road opened, June visitation was up 28 percent from 2016. During July, Glacier Park became the first destination national park in the West to host 1 million visitors in a single month — a number never experienced by Yellowstone, Grand Canyon or even Yosemite.
Then, on Aug. 10, my wife Julie and I, along with countless other visitors, were in the park as an epic lightning storm passed over Glacier. The park saw 20 fires start within its boundaries this summer, with an additional two fires that made their way into the park from neighboring land. Park firefighting crews took decisive action on all of these fires and succeeded in suppressing 18 of them within a few days. One of the remaining fires grew to be what was called the Sprague Fire, which started that night of Aug. 10. It was a blaze that behaved badly indeed, an ember storm which consumed the iconic dormitory building at the Sperry Chalet. The west side of the Going-to-the-Sun Road closed for the remaining summer season due to the fire on Sept. 3, and yet September visitation to the park slipped only 19 percent compared to last year and for the first time ever, more than 3 million people visited Montana’s beloved Glacier Park by the end of September.
While it’s going to take all of us some time to wrap our minds around what these statistics mean and what we might do to respond, three things are clear. First, this increase in usage and the impacts caused by the fires are going to require significant investments in restoration, rehabilitation and research. Second, as visitors from around the world continue to be attracted to the splendor and majesty that Montana in general and Glacier National Park specifically have to offer, doing nothing is not an option. Third, responding to this “new normal” is going to require a highly functioning public-private partnership to preserve and protect the place that means so much to all of us as Montanans.
And that’s exactly where we — and you — come in. At the Glacier National Park Conservancy, our very mission is to help preserve and protect Glacier National Park. That’s it. So how exactly do we do that? We accomplish this mission by working closely with the park to identify critical projects that may not be included in the park’s base budget; projects like the installation of backcountry toilets at Hole in the Wall, the inspection of over 10,000 boats to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species, and, of course, the recent completion of the structural stabilization of the burned Sperry Chalet dormitory building.
In 2017, the Glacier Conservancy will have provided over $2 million in grant funding to support more than 50 projects across the park in the areas of research, education and preservation. The fact of the matter is though, even though I’ll stack this team up with any team of highly functioning professionals in the business, we can’t do any of it without your help. And that’s what makes this work so special. Ours is the work of real teamwork — the park, the Glacier Conservancy and you.
That’s why as the snow begins to fall and we Montanans start thinking about making a few turns in the snow, it’s good to remind ourselves that next summer will be here before we know it. Will we be ready? For our part, we committed to fundraising for 54 projects that touch every corner of the park in 2018. $2.2 million is needed to make these projects a reality and as of today, we’re still $814,000 away from meeting the goal of funding these critical needs.
Help us keep this promise to Glacier. Each project is described in some detail on our website at glacier.org and I think you’ll be impressed with the significance and breadth of the work. I hope you’ll take a look, give us your feedback, add your voice to the discussion about the future of our park and, if you are able, support this important work in any way you can.
Mitchell is the executive director of the Glacier National Park Conservancy.