State Parks, Forest Service also dealing with crowds

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Hikers pose for a picture with their dogs in the Jewel Basin in this file photo.

Glacier National Park isn’t the only land agency dealing with crowds. The Flathead National Forest and Montana state parks also have their fair share of visitors as well.

Montana State Parks had 2.7 million visitors across its 54 units statewide Dave Landstrom, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks manager for Region 1 said last week.

“That represents a 28 percent increase,” over the previous year, Landstrom noted at a talk with Glacier Park superintendent Jeff Mow and Forest Supervisor Chip Weber last week at Flathead Valley Community Collage.

In Region 1, there are 14 state parks that see about 700,000 visitors annually.

The state parks have a lot in common with Glacier. Like Glacier, Landstrom said they, too, have had to shut gates when popular places get overcrowded. In fact, that’s where Glacier got the idea from, said Park Superintendent Jeff Mow.

Last year, Glacier closed gates at popular Park destinations on numerous occasions. Logan Pass, for example, had parking restrictions a whopping 53 days last summer. Bowman Lake also had 53 days of restrictions. Kintla Lake had 31.

Both lakes have miles of rough, dirt, roads to get there — but it doesn’t seem to be detracting visitors at all.

Landstrom noted that some parks in its system are definitely more busy than others. Parks around Flathead Lake fill up fast, but the Thompson Chain of Lakes has about 100 campsites in its system, and often has open spaces, as does Lake Mary Ronan.

There’s not much the state can do to ease crowding in Glacier, but state parks could help extend a traveler’s vacation a day or two.

The state also has 400 fishing access sites that draw a host of uses — most of which have nothing to do with angling. In addition, the Whitefish Trail, which runs through 13,000 acres of state lands is also becoming a destination with its 42 miles of mountain bike and hiking trails.

The Flathead National Forest also saw about 1 million visitors last year, Weber said, but about 400,000 of those were to Big Mountain, he noted.

Other parts of the Forest are far quieter. He noted that visitation to the world-class Bob Marshall Wilderness has been pretty stable over the years. The growth in the Flathead is places where people can get out and hike for one or two days.

He said the Forest, in the coming years, will work with user groups to create more trails closer to population centers.

He said the Forest is also looking at a permitted livery service, which could make backcountry travel easier for users. In addition, the Forest Service is considering allowing permits for a hut system on parts of the Forest that would allow travelers to hike from hut to hut.

Visitors may soon have a one-stop portal on the web to see all the available campsites and trails in a given area. Rec.gov, which isn’t online yet, is in the works, and would include a host of outdoor recreation resources.

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