As the summer winds down, I greet the changing season with mixed emotions. Part of me longs for more sunny Montana weekends spent outside either in the mountains or on the water. Then there is the competing voice in my head, piping up to say: “Well, I’m glad that’s over with. At least I survived another one.”
I’m never quite ready for the shorter days, but always eager for the shorter lines. And, right now, we’re smack dab in the middle of this transition. But instead of jumping ahead to Sept. 22 and the first day of fall, let’s look back at the summer that was. One that was extraordinarily busy, but perhaps not as bad as it could have been … you know, like in 2021.
First, there were the tourists. They showed up in droves, cramming into restaurants and pulling passenger cars behind their RVs, but based on the data, fewer actually arrived. That’s a good thing, because the number of visitors last year pushed everyone and everything to its breaking point.
A combination of a cold and rainy June, a late opening of the Going-to-Sun Road, and, most importantly, tourism returning to a level that more closely resembled pre-pandemic levels, saw demand for some services in the tourism industry fall precipitously from a summer ago.
Numbers from both Glacier National Park and Glacier Park International Airport (GPIA) back this up. The park reported last week that it welcomed 722,076 visitors in July, down 9.4% from the same month last year. Overall yearly visitation is down about the same. GPIA has also seen its numbers dip a bit. In July, there were 64,526 total enplanements, compared to 72,683 during the same month in 2021. Discount airliner JetBlue, which was offering direct routes to New York City, is no longer servicing the airport. And another discounter, Frontier Airlines, ended its season early.
Then there were the annual events that draw large crowds to the region. Most of them, especially the Under the Big Sky Festival (which decreased its capacity), seemed more manageable. Other local events also reported slightly smaller crowds.
Then there were all the newcomers, still arriving and getting acclimated to life in Northwest Montana. The influx may have ebbed a bit, but not much. What has changed is the number of homes for sale and rent across the valley. The inventory, while still historically low, appears to be catching up, which could begin easing the housing crisis. Price cuts are now common across the valley.
Then there were the fires, which are lingering. But they could have been worse, and the smoke should begin dissipating now that temperatures are falling into the 30s and 40s. Heads up, transplants, evenings will be cold from now until July.
Finally, there is the traffic and bad driving, which, somehow, is worse than it’s ever been in the history of Flathead County. This fact defies all logic and aforementioned data. The roads should not be this much busier than last year. The proportion of drivers infected with road rage should not be this high. The commute times should not have increased by this amount. But they all have. I can’t prove it, but I promise they all have gotten way worse.
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.