Glacier National Park’s centennial celebration was deemed a success by park officials, who said increased visitation led to increased recognition of the region’s cultural and natural history.
Glacier set a record for visitors in 2010, with 2,216,019 people entering the park in the first 11 months of the year, eclipsing the prior record of 2,203,847 during all of 1983.
“We all feel it has been a success and the numbers certainly reflect it,” Glacier Public Affairs Officer Amy Vanderbilt said.
Kass Hardy, Glacier centennial coordinator, said the 130-plus centennial events helped boost visitor numbers. Glacier’s 9.9 percent increase in visitation in 2010 over 2009 “was an incredible thing to see,” Hardy said.
Nearly every national park which has observed a centennial has had a boost in visitation during its centennial year, Hardy said, ranging from 2 to 11 percent. Glacier was on the high end of that scale.
“We feel good about where we’ve ended up,” Hardy said. “We set the bar high.”
While Hardy was pleased that people attended centennial events and toured the park, she was especially happy with the relationships established by the centennial celebration.
The 93 centennial volunteers were surveyed about their efforts, and all said they built new networks as a result of their work on the Glacier projects “and look forward to continuing to work on different efforts in the region,” Hardy said.
“We couldn’t plan for that in advance, but the result was impressive,” she said. “It is certainly our hope that cooperation continues long after the centennial.”
Park officials hadn’t had many chances prior to the centennial to “really reach out and work with groups outside the park,” Hardy said. But now that those have been established, the intent is to maintain preservation-related relationships with museums and other entities that focus on history.
The relationships with the four major park partners — the Glacier National Park Fund, the Glacier Association, the Glacier Institute and Glacier National Park Associates — were solidified during the centennial, she said.
“Through the centennial we had a chance to not only work more closely with them, but also work on a variety of things we hadn’t in the past,” Hardy said .
All year, history was a big focus, she said. “We saw people digging into history books, the archives and going to old newspapers and trying to tap into the history of the region.”
“It was a great time to really raise that awareness of cultural and natural history of the region.”
One of the biggest centennial items was the story book, “A View Inside Glacier National Park, 100 years 100 stories,” she said. Park officials received many more than 100 submissions for the book, but selected 100 stories for inclusion.
The book hit the intended mark of “inspiring personal connections,” she said. “You open it and there is something that will be relevant to you. There’s something that will cause you to want to share an experience with somebody else.”
Personal connections to the centennial also were made through the nine alumni reunions staged throughout the year, Hardy said.
“It was amazing to watch those people come back together to a place that was so meaningful to them.”
Among the groups who gathered in 2010 were former park employees, former trail crew workers, gearjammers (drivers of the park’s famed red tour buses), former employees of Many Glacier Hotel and former employees of Belton Chalet.
“Some of these people hadn’t been back to the park for 20 or 30 years. It was inspiring to see their personal connections and see them reconnecting with one another and the park,” she said.
While the official celebrations wrapped up in October, some of the centennial projects are yet to be completed, Hardy said.
Seven legacy projects were planned and funding secured for five. Some of the work on those five has been finished.
“The legacy projects were set up with the Glacier National Park Fund,” Hardy said. “The idea was to have some kind of bricks-and-mortar things done in the centennial year.”
One legacy project was to increase the number of handicap-accessible trails in the park. One on the northeast side of Swiftcurrent Lake is nearly complete.
A second project was the “people in Glacier” program, which focused on the history of people who have lived in the park. That program was taken to schools in Northwestern Montana and to date, 2,500 students have been involved in the program. Plans call for continuing to use the program in coming years, Hardy said.
A citizen science project on species of concern in the park was another legacy project of the Glacier National Park Fund. The number of certain species of animals were counted during the summer to help park officials gain and maintain baseline data, she said.
A fourth legacy project was raising money for new interior and exterior exhibits at the Logan Pass Visitor Center. Those exhibits currently are being built and will be installed in the next couple of years, Hardy said.
The Glacier National Park Fund also is working to develop a wildlife viewing area in the Many Glacier area, Hardy said, also a legacy project.
The dark skies initiative is a sixth legacy project. An assessment of lighting in the park is under way, Hardy said. Many parks across the United States are adopting dark skies standards and altering lighting so people can see the night skies, Hardy said. Depending on what the assessment shows, lights in Glacier could be modified.
A seventh legacy project is the restoration and stabilization of the Heavens Peak lookout. Again, the Glacier National Park Fund has raised some of the money needed for that work. Once more money is raised, the project will move forward, Hardy said.
Hardy easily can rattle off a list of other centennial accomplishments, including 12 art exhibits related to the centennial. One major exhibit moved around Montana touting the park. The Hockaday Museum of Art in Kalispell hosted a series of art exhibits and several student shows took place in Flathead County.
Another achievement was the 81 area businesses that attained the status of “green businesses.”
The National Parks Conservation Association has 15 defined green practices. A business that implements seven of the 15 can qualify as a green business through that association and display a sticker noting the qualification.
“The bigger picture is it engaged businesses that may not have been engaged in the centennial otherwise,” Hardy said.
The green business effort ties in well with Glacier’s designation as a climate-friendly park, which means park personnel work to maintain an environmental management plan to reduce the impact of operations. “It tapped into this notion that we are a continuous ecosystem and this is something you can do to help the ecosystem,” Hardy said.
The 1,700 volunteer hours logged on the centennial were recognized by the National Park Service which chose the Glacier volunteers as the outstanding group of the year in 2010.
Hardy’s tenure as the centennial coordinator ended just before Christmas. She began her work in April 2008 to prepare for the August 2009 kick-off for the centennial.
Reporter Shelley Ridenour may be reached at 758-4439 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.