Glacier Park Releases Report On Ticketed Entry Pilot Program
"Overall ticketed entry has met the goals we set out to achieve.”
WEST GLACIER, Mont. [September 16, 2021] – Glacier National Park reports another busy year with 2,354,475 visitors through August. A pilot ticketed entry system was implemented on Going-to-the-Sun Road for the 2021 season to; help manage high traffic volumes during a predicted high visitor season; avoid traffic back-ups onto US Highway 2 during construction; and operate with reduced staff and services due to COVID-19 mitigations. The goals of ticketed entry included shaving off the high peaks in traffic to reduce congestion on the Going-to-the-Sun Road and avoiding gridlock that could block emergency traffic.
On opening day for Going-to-the-Sun Road, there was a 10% increase in vehicles over 2019. In a July press release, Glacier National Park incorrectly reported a 41% increase of Going-to-the-Sun Road traffic over 2019 on opening day. This inaccuracy occurred because of a data error that has been corrected.
In our attempt to use real-time data to monitor the traffic on Going-to-the-Sun Road, we discovered a data error that made it appear as though we had a larger increase in traffic over 2019,” said acting Superintendent Pete Webster. “Although the reported increase in July was not accurate, overall ticketed entry has met the goals we set out to achieve.”
Between Memorial Day weekend through the end of August, there was a 12% decrease in vehicles on Going-to-the-Sun Road from 2019, reflecting the park’s goal to shave off spikes in traffic volume.
Visitation parkwide year-to-date through August was 3.8% lower than 2019. While Going-to-the-Sun Road vehicle entry decreased this year, alternate entrances to the park saw increased visitation, resulting in frequent closures. Vehicle entry during June through August at Two Medicine was up almost 33%, the highest on record, and the North Fork almost 20% over 2019 numbers.
Construction on Many Glacier Road throughout the season caused the traffic counter to malfunction in June and July, a situation that has been remedied for the remaining season. Alternative calculations based on current and previous year trail counts and visitation needed to be developed to estimate the traffic counts, which delayed the park’s reporting on visitation statistics for June and July.
The table below shows visitation for the months of June, July, and August over the last several years according to IRMA, the National Park Service’s reporting tool.
The list below shows the year-to-date visitation trends through August since 2016.
2021 – 2,354,475
2020 – 1,171,847
2019 – 2,447,377
2018 – 2,399,298
2017 – 2,803,044
2016 – 2,344,592
In 2020, high visitation on Going-to-the-Sun Road resulted in congestion and required 28 closures of GTSR between June 8-September 9 to avoid gridlock. This year, ticketed entry successfully dispersed entry and exit patterns on the Going-to-the-Sun Road at peak times, allowing the West Entrance to remain open throughout the main portion of the 2021 summer season. Based on the number of arriving vehicles, in the absence of the ticketed entry system, the park would very likely have had to close the West Entrance gate at least 35 times during the summer season. It also provided certainty to visitors with an entry ticket that they would be able to enter the park rather than being turned away due to closure of the West Entrance because of congestion and gridlock.
An average of 19% of vehicles arrived at the West Glacier and St. Mary entrances without a Going-to-the-Sun entry ticket or other reservation between Memorial Day and Labor Day. This number continued to trend downward and was closer to 14% at season’s end. Every diverted visitor was provided an opportunity to speak to a park ranger and receive information on how to experience the park without a ticket.
Now that the pilot program has ended, congestion on Going-to-the-Sun Road is being managed through temporary closures of the West Entrance as necessary. The West Entrance has had three closures, on September 7, 8, and 14 since the ticketed entry program ended.
Park officials will use the information gathered during the 2021 pilot to determine how to move forward in 2022. The park is holding discussions with stakeholders and hopes to announce a decision by late fall.
As a reminder, construction continues in and around the park. Visitors can check the Montana Department of Transportation website for updates on Highway 2 construction.