Park Gateway Businesses Seek Clarity on Upcoming Summer in Glacier

Businesses sending letter this week to park superintendent, governor detailing steep revenue losses and asking for clear messaging

By Maggie Dresser
Glacier Raft Company prepares for a float down the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. Beacon File Photo

Ever since Glacier National Park closed on March 27, Jeff Baldelli of Glacier Raft Company and Glacier Anglers has had to cancel reservation after reservation and has seen few new bookings for his guided trips down the Flathead River.

With Glacier National Park serving as the main attraction for visitors, many tourists are canceling their trips to Northwest Montana, even though gateway businesses are still offering services outside of the park.

Baldelli has seen a 30 to 40% drop in revenue already, which he predicts will deepen since the company typically receives most of its bookings in the spring, before the summer tourist season peaks.

“The park is definitely the attraction,” Baldelli said. “We have cabin rentals, fishing trips; we have a retail store that sells a lot of outdoor goods. All of that stuff is pretty much sitting idle. We have a wedding venue … and all of our May weddings have either canceled or rescheduled.”

This prompted Baldelli and nearly 40 businesses, ranging from outfitters in West Glacier to banks in Columbia Falls that depend on the park’s tourism to park concessionaires, to write a letter to Glacier National Park Superintendent Jeff Mow in hopes that he’ll convey the message that there are other attractions still available to visitors even though the park is closed. Businesses are also copying Gov. Steve Bullock in the letter.

“We know that Jeff is pretty aware of how the park affects the local businesses and the local economy, and we wanted to get it out there and reiterate and help with the messaging,” Baldelli said.

Aubrie Loroña, the general manager of finance and administration at Swan Mountain Outfitters, has seen a 60% drop in bookings at the horseback riding guide service.

While spring shoulder season is usually slow, Loroña says the company relies on springtime bookings to make ends meet before it starts seeing a steady stream of clients in the summer.

“I think we just want to make sure that the park understands that anything that they say about the timeline that those worries carry a lot of weight,” she said. “We want to use the opportunity of that platform to speak to the public to help them understand they can support business that is so dependent (on the park).”

At Glacier Raft Company, Baldelli is also hoping for firmer dates on the park’s reopening. While he understands the state’s reopening phases, he said it’s difficult to plan without certain benchmarks that might dictate the park’s reopening. He said businesses would like clearer guidelines that would classify when the park would be safe to reopen.

Local businesses also hope to lift the 14-day quarantine as soon as it’s safe to do so and try to salvage revenue losses in the summer months, which they reiterated to Mow and Bullock in the letter, saying that the quarantine would “essentially kill the possibility of visitation for out of state visitors” if still in effect come June or July.

“I believe we have a good relationship with Jeff and the park and local agencies, and we’re strictly trying to work with them for, one, the messaging, and trying to show them how a lack of clarity is affecting us,” Baldelli said.

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