September 28, 2023
Post Office Box 128
West Glacier, MT 59936
Subject: Comments on Visitor Use Management at Glacier National Park
Dear Superintendent Roemer:
I am writing to you on behalf of over 2,500 members of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks (Coalition), who collectively represent more than 45,000 years of national park management experience. The Coalition studies, educates, speaks, and acts for the preservation of America’s National Park System. Among our members are former NPS directors, regional directors, superintendents, resource specialists, park rangers, maintenance and administrative staff, and a full array of other former employees, volunteers, and supporters.
Glacier National Park (NP) has been recently criticized for trying to address an overwhelming problem – too many visitors at one time and not enough park staff to fully support the high levels of visitation. For years, the park has been grappling with the safe accommodation of approximately three million visitors per year, with most of the visitation concentrated in the summer months. Parking lots at major destinations have been filled before sunrise, trails and roads are constantly congested, and access to whole areas of the park were frequently restricted to allow time for traffic to clear and ensure there was access for emergency vehicles.
The overcrowding at Glacier creates an obvious conflict between the conservation of park resources and values and visitor use, in this case visitor overuse. As stated in NPS Management Policies 2006, Section 1.4.3, “when there is a conflict between conserving resources and values and providing for enjoyment of them, conservation is to be predominant. This is how courts have consistently interpreted the Organic Act.”
The park staff have conducted pilots with visitor use management procedures at Glacier NP for many years, which has resulted in uncertainty about when and what restrictions may happen next. The current planning process has created positive public expectations that the NPS will finally create and implement a thoughtful, long-term approach that provides stable, consistent management of visitor access at the park.
As directed by the National Parks and Recreation Act, the National Park Service is required to set a visitor carrying capacity with park areas and a monitoring program. Because visitors use many areas of the park during their visit, we encourage the park to set an overall visitor carrying capacity and set of desired conditions. We also encourage the park to establish additional scientifically based and peer reviewed indicators, standards, and thresholds for measuring visitor quality and resource conditions in all visitation areas, including the park’s recommended wilderness area. The monitoring of these indicators will ensure success and public credibility as the management actions are implemented in the future.
We encourage the park to create opportunities for adaptive management strategies as new data is made available. A combination of strategies, such as park entry timed entry, day-use reservations, seasonal reservation systems and peak time limits (such as holidays and core day hours), and other methods may be used to refine the plan over time. The pilot reservation systems used over the past few years have provided the park data that visitation within capacity can be accommodated by timed park entry and reservation systems.
Comments regarding your specific questions are as follows:
- What experiences in Glacier National Park are most important to you?
Experiences of solitude and quiet soundscapes. Glacier NP being remote should provide opportunities to explore the wild character of the park. Experiences should also provide opportunities for viewing wildlife and other life in a natural setting.
- What does your ideal experience at Glacier National Park look or feel like?
We expect a quality visitor experience that is not crowded or congested. Roadways are free from traffic congestion.
- What most detracts from the quality of your experience in the park, if anything?
Long lines, congestion, and road closures detract from a quality experience.
- What did you learn from the three years of managed access pilots at Glacier? What worked well for you? What could have been better?
The pilot actions helped alleviate traffic congestion, overcrowding, and road closures. Our local members have received this feedback from park users: “While the reservation system can be frustrating, the experience in the park is positive and an improvement over previous years when no such system was in place.”
We believe a thoughtful Visitor Access Management Plan should be developed. It would be the key to caring for the direction and mandates established in the Glacier’s Foundation document, Glacier National Park enabling legislation, and National Park Service policy and law. We strongly encourage Glacier NP to ensure that cultural and natural resources, “world class” ecosystems, and superlative environmental quality are protected from derogation and to create a plan that sustains resource integrity and accommodates quality visitor experiences. We appreciate the opportunity to provide comments.
Michael B. Murray
Chair of the Executive Council
Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks