AP NEWS

Glacier Park ‘dashboard’ to give real-time updates

February 24, 2019

Glacier National Park visitors should soon have a new way to keep up with conditions inside the park, Park Superintendent Jeff Mow told the Columbia Falls Area Chamber of Commerce last week.

Mow said the park hopes to have a new park “dashboard” available on its website for the busy season in Glacier this year. The digital dashboard will put a variety of useful information at visitors’ fingertips, including real-time weather information for both the east and west sides of park, as well as Logan Pass. The dashboard also gives real-time updates on the status of campgrounds throughout the park, letting visitors know which sites are open or full before they reach the park entrance. In addition, the site also displays at what time campsites were full the previous day.

Similarly, the dashboard gives updates on parking lots for many popular areas in the park, including Avalanche Creek, Bowman Lake, Logan Pass, Many Glacier, Two Medicine and the St. Mary Visitor Center. Visitors to the site can also learn of any vehicle restrictions that may be in place.

With its new online tool, Glacier hopes to educate visitors to conditions inside the park before they arrive so they can know what to expect once they do.

While park visitation was down 10 percent in 2018, it was still the second busiest year on record, leading to a number of headaches for visitors and park employees.

“I can tell you that my staff has felt overwhelmed by the visitation over the last three or four years,” Mow said. “Some rangers have reported seeing light underneath the tires of vehicles parked at angles off the side of the road. In one incident, a visitor slammed the door on the passenger side of a vehicle and it just fell over.”

Parking is not the only problem that has come along with the increased number of visitors, Mow said the park is seeing more and more medical emergencies each summer, leading to another set of difficulties.

“We have literally run out of space in some places over the past few summers. We get to the point of gridlock, where emergency vehicles couldn’t get in if they had to,” he said. “Service calls have gone up quite a bit with the increased visitation. In 2017, we had 15 days in a row where we had to transport people out of the park.”

Along with increased visitation numbers, the park is also seeing different types of visitors than it has seen in the past, Mow noted, including hikers who may not be ready for the strenuous challenges of the park’s trail system.

“It’s not just the number of people that are coming, it is also who is coming to visit the park. When I was growing up, Glacier was not really considered a first-timers’ park. It was place where people thought you should have some experience before you came to visit. Things have changed dramatically since then and I think social media has had a large impact on that,” he said. “A lot of people get onto the Highline Trail and really are not prepared for what comes next.”

The problem has led the park to start a new “preventative search and rescue” program, where rangers are stationed at the start of many strenuous trails to help check whether or not hikers are prepared for what lies ahead of them.

Wildfires in the park are another concern.

“What we have found over the past few years, with the snowpack disappearing so quickly, is that the snowpack now has very little impact on what the summers are going to be like. The summer conditions are now solely dependent on what kind of moisture the area receives during those summer months,” Mow said. “We are also finding that abnormal wind conditions could also be a contributing factor to the severity of summer fires.”

Another interesting bit of information Mow shared was that park visitation actually increased during the government shutdown a few weeks ago. Mow also thanked the local communities for supporting Glacier employees during the shutdown.

“There was such an outpouring of support from the surrounding area during the government shutdown, not only for the employees of Glacier National Park but also National Forest employees and others,” he said. “It was great to have a different kind of experience with the community. It was very meaningful to us. I am thankful to be the superintendent of Glacier National Park every day, whether we are shut down or not.”