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More fire dampers August visits to Glacier National Park

Posted at 4:35 PM, Sep 10, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-10 18:35:09-04

Another summer of fire is putting the damper on visitor numbers at Glacier National Park.

In fact, with year-to-date totals running a half-million people behind, it’s looking like Glacier might not set any records this season.

While visitation to the park has been steady this summer, the pace has been off what we’ve seen the past few years, when Glacier was setting new records every year. The summer got off to a slow start with a cold and wet June, with visits already running nearly 60,000 people behind 2017.

Weather improved in July, although park attendance was still $100,000 off last July’s record pace when more than 1 million people came through the gates.

Then the Howe Ridge Fire broke out, forcing closure of the popular Going-to-the-Sun Road on the west side of the park, and filling the internet with images of flame. While the rest of the park is open, and the Sun Road now has shuttles, the closure is having an impact.

Latest numbers from the park show visitation dropping to just over 667,000 people, which is 241,000 fewer than last August, which was already down because of the Sprague Fire closures at the end of last summer.

That puts Glacier’s total visits for the year at 2.3 million people, which is far behind last year’s record pace of 2.8 million by the end of August.

That’s a 30 percent drop in traffic through the West Gate, but just as telling is the 40-percent drop in August traffic at St. Mary’s, obviously because of the Sun Road closure. Even Polebridge, which hasn’t been impacted by the fire closures was down more than 36 percent.