Guest Column

Questions on Glacier’s Ticketed Entry System

I would guess that I am not the only one questioning the park’s recent decision

By Paul Ebright

I have hesitated in writing this opinion piece on Glacier National Park’s ticketed entry system, waiting for my questions and comments to be raised by someone in the media, but it has yet to happen. The reasoning the park has expressed for implementing the ticketed entry system is based on the 2020 season when the west entrance was closed a portion of 25 days with the opinion that the establishment of a ticketed entry system would prevent those closures. However, unlike other years, in 2020 all four eastside park entrances were closed, leaving all visitors to enter only by West Glacier or Polebridge. Not surprisingly, almost all visitors entered at West Glacier. The park’s decision to close all eastside entrances created the overcrowding at West Glacier – a self-inflicted crisis.

Also, 18 of those 25 days (of partial day closure) occurred before the Going-to-the-Sun Road was opened to Logan Pass on July 13, 2020. So, there were only seven days of partial closure from July 13 to Labor Day, a 57-day period. The West Glacier entrance had to close on a portion of only 12% of the days during peak tourist season, when it was essentially the only major entrance to the park. That seems like a questionable justification for a ticketed entry system in 2021, when all park entrances are open. On related matters, the park claims it is short staffed due to COVID and cannot open all its campgrounds. Yet now there is a need for extra employees to staff the ticket check stations at West Glacier and St. Mary’s. Why couldn’t the park use a concession to operate the campgrounds this year (and in the future), allowing the campgrounds to be open and freeing park staff for more important duties? The Forest Service uses concessions to operate their campgrounds, and they are open this year. Why are park shuttles being operated at reduced capacities and by advanced reservation only while Xanterra’s Red Buses operate at full capacity?  

Regarding closures at park entrances, from what I read, closures are a daily occurrence at Polebridge, and I suspect from my observations that Many Glacier and Two Medicine are closed on most days since those entrances are a non-ticket option. The park seems to accept closures at those entrances as routine and acceptable, but a seven-time closure at West Glacier in 2020 peak season justifies implementation of a ticketed entry system. Again, a self-inflicted crisis.

Why are these and other questions not being directed at the park by the media? I would guess that I am not the only one questioning the park’s recent decisions. Yet, all we hear from the park are statements from the park spokesperson indicating that the system is working well, and visitors are accepting. No media interviews with the 25% who can’t get a ticket. No hard questions for the park spokesperson. I just got tired of waiting for the media to ask the questions that many people want answers to.

Paul Ebright lives in Columbia Falls.