WEST GLACIER – Bakersfield, California, resident Becky Janssen and her two children got up in Whitefish on Thursday morning, saw a report that Logan Pass in Glacier National Park was accessible for the first time this year, and decided to set out for West Glacier and their first-ever trip to the park.
Glacier can awe someone who’s never seen it before, but Janssen and her kids were in shock before they even made it past the entrance station.
One minute they were sitting in the car, waiting in line to pay their entrance fee.
The next thing they knew, one of the Janssens had been proclaimed the 100 millionth visitor in the history of Glacier Park by Superintendent Jeff Mow.
“Crazy,” decided 10-year-old Gretchen Janssen, whose T-shirt reading "#WINNER" perhaps best summed up the experience.
“It’s kind of weird,” added her 14-year-old brother, Pierce, as reporters and photographers turned their little family outing into a paparazzi moment. “We’re not used to it.”
Asked which of them was No. 100 million, and who was 100,000,001 and 100,000,002, Becky Janssen laughed and said she’d claim the honor.
“It was my idea to come here,” she said. “These guys would have been happy sitting at the lake today.”
When the superintendent approached the car as they waited in line at the West Entrance, Becky said only one thing ran through her mind.
“I thought I was in trouble,” she admitted.
It’s highly unlikely Janssen is the 100 millionth exactly. Entrance stations aren’t staffed year-round or 24 hours a day, and nobody counts the exact number of people in every car that enters Glacier every day.
Glacier spokeswoman Denise Germann said the park tracks the number of vehicles that enter, and uses a “drive-over formula” that figures an average number of people per vehicle to determine visitation numbers.
Knowing that the 100 millionth visitor would arrive before June was over, the park chose Thursday morning to pick someone who would be representative of the mark.
What may be most noteworthy about Thursday was this:
It took Glacier, which was established in 1910, 79 years before the 50 millionth visitor showed up.
It’s taken only 26 years for the next 50 million people to enter the park.
Mow and deputy superintendent Kym Hall headed out into the line of vehicles at the West Entrance at 10 a.m. to chat with folks entering the park.
It was Mow’s decision as to who would be chosen to represent Glacier’s 100 millionth visitor, and the superintendent admitted he was set on picking a family with children to emphasize the next generation of stewards for America’s national parks.
That meant a lone young woman from Austria in the car ahead of the Janssens, who gave only her first name (Larissa), officially became the 99,999,999th person to enter Glacier. Right behind the Janssens was Chris Bennett of Portland, Maine, and a companion.
Bennett said he was good with being No. 100,000,001, although – with three people in the Janssen vehicle – he was probably No. 100,000,004.
While Larissa, Bennett and Bennett’s companion continued their trips into Glacier as planned, the Janssens were whisked away, behind the flashing red lights of a ranger’s SUV, to the Apgar Visitor Center for a short celebration.
In addition to being given an annual pass to all national parks in America, they got a bag of goodies donated by Glacier concessionaires, the Glacier Institute, Glacier National Park Conservancy and others.
Within an hour, Becky, Pierce and Gretchen were using one of the gifts. Leaving their car behind, they headed out on a Red Bus tour donated by primary concessionaire Xanterra that would take the family to a sun-and-snow-covered landscape at Logan Pass.
All three were excited about that.
Their first-ever visit to Montana had come earlier this year, when Pierce and Gretchen were on spring break, “and we fell in love with it,” Becky said – so much so that they returned to spend the summer in Whitefish.
“Spring break was the first time we ever saw snow fall,” Becky said, and the scenery isn’t the only reason they hurried back to Montana.
“Being from California, we can tell the people here are very welcoming, very warm,” she said.
Thursday may have been their first-ever visit to Glacier, but it probably won’t be their last this summer.
In addition to the annual pass, the bag of goodies includes a boat tour from Glacier Park Boat Co., a raft trip from Glacier Guides and a horseback ride from Swan Mountain Outfitters.
“Not every first-time visitor gets this,” Mow told the Janssens.
“We were just going to drive over, get outside and away from the heat, buy a yearly pass and cruise around,” Becky said. “I heard the (Going-to-the-Sun) road was opening today, so we thought we’d head on up and see what happens.”
And just like that, they came to represent a historic moment in Glacier National Park history.