- Associated Press - Sunday, May 10, 2015

WEST GLACIER, Mont. (AP) - Might visitors to Glacier National Park one day be required to reserve a time to travel over Going-to-the-Sun Road during July and August? Wait their turn to begin their ascent to Logan Pass? Or steer clear of the road altogether on days when only bicyclists are allowed?

Those are some of the preliminary options being discussed as the park prepares to issue a draft environmental impact statement this fall for the Going-to-the-Sun Road Corridor Management Plan.

Glacier officials want you in on the discussion before then.

Rather than wait to take public comment on a draft EIS - which they’ll also do - they’re asking for input now, before the alternatives are modified, analyzed and finalized.

The spectacular roadway is so popular, and the number of visitors to the park now so high, that it’s affecting how people experience Glacier. During peak season, traffic is congested on the narrow, two-lane, 50-mile road that hugs cliff sides at points as it climbs over the Continental Divide. Parking lots and scenic turnouts are crammed to capacity.



It’s not just the road that’s busy. The number of hikers on popular trails near Going-to-the-Sun is up 250 percent from the late 1980s. That’s resulted in hiker congestion, an increase in wildlife encounters, the displacement of wildlife and the trampling of vegetation.

Glacier, which welcomed all of 4,000 people in its first year in 1911, broke the 1 million visitors’ barrier for the first time in 1969. Visitation doubled to more than 2 million just 14 years later, and while it took 31 years to break that record, that happened last year.

In 2014, 2.3 million people entered the park. All indications are that number will grow.

“The trend line for visitation is going up,” says Mary Riddle, Glacier’s chief of planning and environmental compliance. “It’s time to do this.”

Five alternative plans to be considered for managing Going-to-the-Sun are in the works - again, they are preliminary ones, and public input will help make the call on what the final versions will look like this fall.

The first - no action whatsoever - is required in all such proposals by the National Environmental Policy Act.

Preliminary alternatives 2, 3 and 4 are more traditional approaches.

No. 5 calls for “an adaptive response to alternative futures,” and would be “a new way of doing business for us,” says Glacier spokeswoman Denise Germann.

Also at issue in all this is the future of a free shuttle system launched in 2007 during road repairs that still operates from July 1 through Labor Day in an effort to relieve traffic congestion during the park’s busiest months. It allows visitors to park near Glacier’s two main entrances and ride buses over Going-to-the-Sun or to various points along its route.

A recent financial analysis concluded that the portion of entrance fees that support the shuttle system only covers the cost of operation and maintenance, and does not support the acquisition of new buses.

“When we put in the shuttle system, it was hoped it would reduce the traffic problems, but it didn’t work out that way,” Riddle told the Missoulian (https://bit.ly/1bIdU3m). “The shuttles are operating almost to capacity and all the parking lots (along Going-to-the-Sun) continue to be congested.”

There is also a belief among some people that the shuttle system has contributed to the sizable increase in foot traffic on the trails near the road. You can’t hike if you can’t park, but you can if a bus drops you off and another picks you up later.

Preliminary Alternative 2 would build additional parking and infrastructure inside the park, maintain the shuttle system and expand both its hours and the period of time it operates.

More parking would be constructed throughout the Going-to-the-Sun corridor, including at Avalanche. The shuttle system would start earlier and run later, both on a daily and seasonal basis, and be expanded in areas where more parking can’t be built.

Additionally, new hiking trails would be added and current ones widened and hardened, with handrails installed in places. Restroom facilities at popular backcountry locations such as Haystack Butte, Preston Park and Hidden Lake Overlook would be added.

Preliminary Alternative 3 would manage the number of vehicles allowed in the Going-to-the-Sun Road corridor and increase the shuttle system.

Either a reservation system, or a timed entry system, would be employed during peak visitation times - essentially July and August - for travel on Going-to-the-Sun. This would minimize the need for paving more land in the corridor to create more parking.

Under this alternative, the west and east entrances would be redesigned and the shuttle system would be expanded. Increased biking opportunities such as bike-only days on Going-to-the-Sun, and the development of biking trails, are a potential part of this plan.

It would also ban overnight parking, and implement parking time limits, at some locations. As with Preliminary Alternative 2, trails would be added, current ones widened and hardened, and restroom facilities built at the popular backcountry locations.

The shuttle system would be dumped altogether in Preliminary Alternative 4.

It also calls for either the timed entry, or a reservation system, to control the number of vehicles on Going-to-the-Sun at any given time during the busiest times of year.

“Outcomes would include a quality visitor experience by reducing congestion and eliminating need for additional development or other management actions in the GTSR corridor,” according to park officials.

Under alternative 4, the two main entrances would be redesigned and more biking opportunities would also be implemented.

Riddle says preliminary alternatives 2, 3 and 4 “use a more traditional approach of forecasting” certain conditions that anticipate higher visitation and longer peak seasons.

The plan in No. 2 is to “build-out, build to accommodate” more people, she says. No. 3 expands the shuttle system, No. 4 eliminates it, and both 3 and 4 could bring about the timed-entry or reservation systems.

Preliminary Alternative 5, Riddle says, is “flexible - it allows the park to respond to uncertainties” and employs scenario planning.

The preliminary alternatives were developed by park staff and the project planning team, which includes professional transportation planners from the National Park Service.

Germann emphasizes that nothing has been finalized, and the park very much wants public input by June 5, before the draft environmental impact statement is done.

That draft should be released this fall, when public meetings will be scheduled and more public comment taken.

The park anticipates issuing a record of decision in early 2017.

___

Information from: Missoulian, https://www.missoulian.com

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide