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Glacier Park considers adding reservation system for Two Medicine, Many Glacier

by CHRIS PETERSON
Hungry Horse News | November 23, 2022 1:00 AM

Glacier National Park said Friday it has not made a final decision on whether to implement a reservation system for the Two Medicine and Many Glacier valleys.

Park officials at a meeting on Thursday with east side businesses talked about the prospect of an expanded reservation system. The tone of the meeting was that the park was going to implement a similar system as to what is already required for the Going-to-the-Sun Road and the North Fork of the park.

But on Friday, park spokeswoman Gina Kerzman said that a final decision has not been made. That should come in December.

Park officials lacked specifics on the east side entrance reservation concept on Thursday, but Superintendent David Roemer said they hope to work out the details by mid-December to give visitors and businesses time to adjust.

Reservations were required last year to access the North Fork and the Going-to-the-Sun Road from Memorial Day through the weekend after Labor Day. Half were available 120 days in advance and the rest 24 hours in advance. The day in advance reservations proved extremely difficult to get, typically selling out within minutes.

All reservations are taken through the federal government’s website at recreation.gov. But if a person has a slow internet connection, it can be almost impossible to get a reservation.

Even with the reservation system, folks still can get access to the park — that window of opportunity just shifts to early morning or late afternoon hours. The Going-to-the-Sun Road reservation system, for example, last year allowed people to enter the corridor before 6 a.m. and after 4 p.m. without a reservation.

The North Fork’s reservation system offered the same morning time, but extended a bit later in the evening to 6 p.m.

The reservation system has worked as intended on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Officials were looking to avoid the gridlock the park saw in years like 2019 and the system did just that, leveling off the peaks in visitation and making the experience more enjoyable for the visitor who snagged a reservation.

The park has seen an explosion in visitation over the past 10 years — it’s up 64%, with about 3 million visitors a year.

Park officials at the Thursday meeting touted an east side reservation system as a way to guarantee access to the valleys.

They noted that both entrances routinely closed due to overcrowding during the summer months.

Last summer, Two Medicine closed 22 times due to overcrowding, while Many Glacier closed 57 — in short, just about every day during the peak season.

In Many Glacier, the wait for the valley to reopen lasted about 2.8 hours, while Two Medicine was just under two hours.

There’s another wrinkle in the summer of 2023 — construction.

Phil Wilson, Glacier’s chief of science and management, said road construction from Apgar to Lake McDonald Lodge will continue through the summer, with one-way traffic and half-hour delays during the day and up to two hour delays at night.

The road is already torn up because of utility work, as the park upgrades sewer lines from the lodge to Apgar as well as phone and other utilities. This summer, the road itself will be rebuilt.

Wilson said the park is hopeful it can get the work done in 2023.

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