Despite fires, Glacier Park visitation breaches 3.1 million for the year

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Looking down at Two Medicine Lake from the base of Pumpelly Pillar.

Glacier National Park’s September visitation was down more than 19 percent over last year due to closures and wildfires, but the Park still set an overall attendance record, breaching 3.192 million visitors.

Last year, which was the previous record, the Park saw 2.946 million visitors for the whole year.

A third of this year’s visitation came in one month — July — when more than 1 million visitors came to the Park.

September 2017 saw 389,137 recreational visits, despite wildfires and smoke, that closed the west side of the Going-to-the-Sun Road from Apgar to Logan Pass for most of the month. Fires also closed portions of the North Fork as well.

West entrance visitation was off 43.5 percent over last year, while traffic at St. Mary was up about 9 percent, with 115,411 going through the gates. Even with the Sun Road closed, the West Entrance still saw 121,055 visitors — many folks came just to view the Sprague Fire, which was visible from the shores of Lake McDonald.

For the year, Glacier’s visitation is up 12 percent over last year. The theory is that more Canadians came to Glacier this year, as as Parks Canada celebrated its 150th anniversary and admission was free to Canada parks.

That appears to bear out in the numbers — the St. Mary entrance in Glacier was up 42.5 percent for the year, with 892,279 visitors.

Most Canadians come from Alberta and enter the Park from the east side.

Polebridge was also a very popular spot, with 102,874 visits through September, up 25 percent over last year.

The Sun Road never did reopen on the west side. The Sprague Fire continues to put up smoke on sunny dry days and won’t go completely out until snow falls on it. The east side of the Sun Road is currently open to Jackson Glacier Overlook.

There’s snow on Logan Pass, which has the road closed.

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