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Glacier Park defers ticketed entry as summer crowds grow

Glacier Park defers ticketed entry as summer crowds grow

Glacier National Park 06

Ryan Merrill, a Glacier National Park ranger, speaks with Carmel Johnston, left, and Elizabeth Rael, during a stop in traffic.

Glacier National Park officials opted not to use a ticketed entry system to control crowds entering the park’s western gates.

“We heard support for a reservation system from community constituents because they know the park is at maximum capacity,” Glacier Superintendent Jeff Mow said on Wednesday. “But there were serious concerns about implementing such a system with such short notice and midway through the visitor season.”

Due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions on the Blackfeet Reservation, six of the park’s entrances on the east side have been closed to non-essential traffic for the rest of the 2020 tourist season. That leaves just three vehicle entrances on the west side to absorb visitors. Those entrances have seen high levels of congestion since the park opened to motorized traffic on June 8. Travel over the Going-to-the-Sun Road is restricted between West Glacier and Rising Sun, without access to the community of St. Mary on the eastern border of the park.

Mow worked with more than 100 business owners as well as officials at other national parks comparing strategies for managing visitor access, according to Glacier spokeswoman Gina Kerzman. While ticketed entry has been used at other places such as Yosemite National Park, imposing one in Glacier mid-season would be challenging.

“It would have been a big lift, but we could have implemented it,” Kerzman said. “There was support for the reservation system, but also trepidation. The timing wasn’t good.”

That leaves access on a first-come/first-served basis. The park may still have to implement visitor limits to protect health, safety or overuse of the landscape, Kerzman said. She encouraged visitors to check the online Recreation Access Display (RAD), the park’s webcams, and the park’s Twitter account for current conditions.

 “I’m advising people to watch the patterns of when parking lots fill up, and plan accordingly,” Kerzman said. “Have a Plan B in mind.”

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