WEST GLACIER – On Thursday morning, Becky Janssen loaded up her two kids in the family car in Whitefish and headed to Glacier National Park. Little did she know that her family was about to make history.
Janssen, of Bakersfield, California – along with her children Pierce and Gretchen – became the 100 millionth visitor to Glacier in the park’s 105-year history. The family was honored with a small ceremony at the Apgar Transit Center before boarding a Red Bus for a free ride to Logan Pass on the opening day of the iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road.
The Janssen family is spending the summer in Whitefish and on Thursday morning, with news that the west side of the Sun Road was open, decided to check out the park for the first time. The family first came to the Flathead Valley earlier this year.
“Our first time in this area was over spring break and we just fell in love with it so we’re spending the summer here,” Janssen said. “(Today) we were just going to go for a drive and maybe hike around a little bit.”
But the Janssens’ plan changed when Superintendent Jeff Mow walked up to their car shortly after 10 a.m. as they were in line at the west entrance station. Mow informed Janssen that she was the 100 millionth visitor to the park and asked if the family would like to partake in a short celebration. After the family entered the park, they headed to the Apgar Transit Center where they were presented with a gift bag from the park and its partners, including Xanterra Parks and Resorts, the Glacier Conservancy, the Glacier Institute and the Glacier National Park Volunteer Associates. During the ceremony, Mow noted the importance of sharing the park with young people like Pierce, 14, and Gretchen, 10.
“We need to ensure the next generation are stewards and advocates of our National Parks,” Mow said. “The National Park Service is in the forever business and we have to make sure we’re here for future generations.”
This year is already turning into a banner one for the park that annually attracts more than 2 million people. Visitation for 2015 is already up 29 percent over last year’s record, when 2.3 million people came through the gates.
Park officials said it is hard to pinpoint which visitor is indeed the 100 millionth, but said Janssen is representative of that mark, which should come sometime this month.
The 100 millionth visitor comes exactly 80 years after the park hit the 1 million mark when Dr. C. Simpkins, a professor of anatomy at the University of Tennessee, visited with his wife in September 1935.