WEST GLACIER – If you preserve it for future generations, they will come.
Glacier National Park’s record-smashing year for visitation has all but officially passed 2.8 million people by now.
In fact, it probably happened before the National Park Service even got around to adding in October’s numbers this week. Those figures lifted 2016 visitation to 2,797,628, with two months still to go.
The park only needed another 2,372 people to reach the never-before-seen mark of 2.8 million. That would have happened about Nov. 4, if last year’s November numbers are any indication.
Visitation numbers are submitted on a monthly, not daily, basis. While park officials expected another record year because of the National Park Service centennial, it’s safe to say no one anticipated it would climb by almost half a million people over last year’s record 2.3 million-plus.
October’s weather in Glacier was miserable. It rained a lot – 28 of 31 days at West Glacier, a total of 10.6 inches.
It was more rainfall than the West Entrance had seen in any month, ever, since they started recording data in 1914. The weather forced Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier’s top attraction, to close a week earlier than it could have stayed open.
And still, almost 75,000 people visited the park last month, the most in an October in a decade.
October’s final figure – 74,972 – did end five consecutive months of record visitation. Those monthly records included the most for any month in the park’s 106-year history, more than 818,000 in July.
Visitation drops dramatically once barriers go up on Going-to-the-Sun at Avalanche on the west side of the Continental Divide, and this year at the foot of St. Mary Lake on the east side. Somewhere between 25,000 and 35,000 more people will probably enter Glacier in the last two months of the year.
Wherever the final 2.8 million-plus figure ends up, it will be Glacier’s third straight record, after going 31 years without breaking the mark.
Just five years ago, the park welcomed 1 million fewer people than it will this year.