Glacier sets new visitation record

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Two women look out the sun roof as they near the Logan Pass Visitor Center Parking Lot on Wednesday. (Aaric Bryan/Daily Inter Lake)

Glacier National Park has once again set an overall attendance record, breaching 3.1 million visitors so far this year according to National Park Service statistics. The record mark comes despite September visitation dropping by more than 19 percent over last year due to road closures and wildfires.

Last year, which was the previous all-time busiest year, the park saw about 2.9 million visitors for the entire year.

A third of this year’s visitation came in one month — July — when more than 1 million visitors came to the park.

September saw 389,137 recreational visits, despite wildfires and smoke, that closed the west side of the Going-to-the-Sun Road from Apgar to Logan Pass for most of the month. Fires also closed portions of the North Fork, as well.

West Entrance visitation was off 43.5 percent over last year, while traffic at St. Mary was up about 9 percent, with 115,411 going through the gates. Even with the Sun Road closed, the West Entrance still saw 121,055 visitors — many folks came just to view the Sprague Fire, which was visible from the shores of Lake McDonald.

For the year, Glacier’s visitation is up 12 percent over last year. The theory is that more Canadians came to Glacier this year, as Parks Canada celebrated its 150th anniversary and admission was free to Canada parks.

That appears to bear out in the numbers — the St. Mary entrance in Glacier was up 42.5 percent for the year, with 892,279 visitors. Most Canadians come from Alberta and enter the park from the east side.

Polebridge was also a very popular spot, with 102,874 visits through September, up 25 percent over last year.

The Sun Road never reopened on the west side following the initial closure due to the Sprague Fire, which continues to put up smoke and won’t go completely out until snow falls.

The east side of the Sun Road is currently open to Jackson Glacier Overlook due to snow on Logan Pass.

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