Glacier National Park will reopen its west entrance to recreational access on June 8 with services available on a limited basis following a complete closure that began March 24 as the state entered its lockdown concerns.
Park officials released a phased reopening plan last week, laying out an approach that allows Glacier to continue coordinating with tribal officials on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, which flanks the park’s eastern boundary and does not share the same restrictions as the state of Montana.
Tribal officials recently extended restrictions on non-essential travel within the reservation’s boundaries until June 30, and entry to the park via those eastern entrances is prohibited.
The park’s limited reopening also allows its business partners and concessioners to be nimble as they refine strategies to protect the health and safety of the visiting public and their staff members, according to a press release that Glacier officials sent late Tuesday afternoon.
In recent weeks, park administrators at Glacier and Yellowstone have been under pressure to reopen the parks as Montana’s rate of COVID-19 infections remains among the lowest in the nation and the state enters the second phase of its reopening plan. Yellowstone National Park opened its Montana entrances on June 1.
“We understand the economic importance that Glacier has to our gateway communities,” Glacier Superintendent Jeff Mow stated in the press release. “Our goal is to gradually provide visitor access and to mitigate for and respond quickly to any new infections should they occur.”
The park’s reopening priorities center on protecting the public and employees from transmission risks through a variety of mitigation actions consistent with local, state, tribal, and federal guidance, the release states. The park will actively monitor changing conditions (in the park and in surrounding counties); and will maintain flexibility to expand, adjust, or contract operations as conditions warrant.
The park has developed a range of mitigation actions that include: providing protective barriers where needed, encouraging the use of masks or facial coverings when social distancing cannot be maintained, increasing cleaning frequency of facilities, adding signage on boardwalks and other public spaces, and messaging to visitors through a variety of methods.
What will be open beginning June 8?
On Monday, June 8 the park will open the west gate entrance at West Glacier. The gate will be open until 4:30 p.m. each day until operations are extended.
Visitors will be able to access Apgar and Going-to-the-Sun Road as far as Lake McDonald Lodge.
Going-to-the-Sun will open to hiker/biker traffic as conditions allow. Check the park website for updates.
Visitors will be able to access restrooms and trails that are accessible from open park roads.
Private businesses in Apgar Village may decide to operate.
The park is targeting to have personal boating on Lake McDonald and aquatic invasive species inspection stations open. Check the park website for updates.
What will remain closed until later phases of the plan?
East entrances from the Blackfeet Reservation will remain closed. The park is consulting with the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council to establish reopening dates for entrances from the reservation.
Visitor centers and ranger stations will remain closed until later in the season.
Overnight accommodations will be unavailable until later in the season.
Campgrounds, backcountry permits, additional stores, expanded tours, takeout food service, and visitor centers will remain closed. These services and/or facilities will open when safe and appropriate mitigation measures are in place.
Hotels, full-service dining, commercial tour buses, and ranger programs will remain closed. These services and/or facilities will reopen when health conditions allow.
Visitor transportation services (shuttles) will not be offered this season due to social distancing requirements in according with Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidance on transit.
Visitors should come prepared and follow all CDC and local health guidance by practicing good hygiene and social distancing. Face coverings are recommended where social distancing is not possible. People who are sick should stay home and not visit the park. The CDC has provided specific guidance on visiting parks and recreational facilities.
“We are excited to have visitors return to Glacier National Park, but it’s important that our visitors help us prevent the spread of COVID-19 by practicing social distancing from fellow visitors and our employees,” Mow said. “We all have a role to play in protecting our families and friends.”
Previously-scheduled road construction projects on both sides of the park will continue in the spring and summer. Many areas of the park are still experiencing winter conditions and plowing is in progress on Going-to-the-Sun Road. As in previous years, Going-to-the-Sun Road over Logan Pass is expected to open in late June.
The park will provide details and updates for operations as they change on https://www.nps.gov/glac/index.htm and on the park’s social media channels. Updates about NPS operations will be posted on www.nps.gov/coronavirus.