Don’t Ruin the Sun Road

It's time the NPS proposed a reasonable cap on the number of vehicles on an hourly or daily basis

By Roger Sherman

Glacier National Park and more appropriately the National Park Service seems hell-bent on ruining the visitor experience on the Going to the Sun Road (GTSR). This historic and magnificent road no longer provides a pleasant national park experience at the peak of the summer. It’s time the NPS set a daily or hourly cap on vehicle numbers in order to protect the road and park resources “unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

Every local knows that at the peak of the tourist season (the best time to visit Glacier) you’d be better off staying far away from the GTSR. It’s a 50-mile traffic slugfest.

You’re lucky to get a parking space at Logan Pass. All the parking spaces and trails from Apgar to St. Mary are full and overflowing with people. The shuttles are full and wait times stretch into hours. You can’t escape the sight or sound of people along the spectacular Highline Trail.

Bottom line, visitor numbers along GTSR corridor have degraded the visitor experience and park resources, and it’s going to get worse.

Enter the National Park Service’s proposal to fix the problem. The “Going-to-the-Sun Road Corridor Management Plan Environmental Assessment” proposes to shoe-horn more people into parking lots by “re-striping” and adding more parking places, paving the Avalanche Lake trailhead, and turning the Highline Trail into a one-way foot traffic lane, among other fixes. All with absolutely no assurance of funding.

While these and other proposals might cram in more people, and squeeze more cars into places like Logan Pass, the net effect will be to simply compress more people into places already seeing the impacts of too many people.

The proposed plan isn’t a plan at all. It’s a put-off-for-tomorrow-what-should-be-decided-today excuse. Shame on the National Park Service.

With so many Americans concerned about government spending, this is one place where America can improve things by spending less. There’s a much less expensive solution than spending millions on new infrastructure and perennial management costs.

Put a cap on it! Glacier National Park has yet to determine the “carrying capacity” of the GTSR corridor. That is, what’s the limit on number of cars and people that will restore the visitor experience, protect wildlife, and reverse the wear and tear on park resources?

It’s time the National Park Service addressed the core problem, and proposed a reasonable cap on the number of vehicles on the GTSR on an hourly or daily basis.

Simple. And everyone will benefit.

Roger Sherman lives in Whitefish.    

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