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Guest view: National parks and their gateway communities ask visitors for stewardship
GUEST VIEW

Guest view: National parks and their gateway communities ask visitors for stewardship

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As we look to the upcoming summer at Glacier National Park and beyond, the Whitefish Convention and Visitors Bureau (Explore Whitefish) and National Parks Conservation Association commend Glacier National Park for instating the Going-to-the-Sun Road ticketed entry system.

Gateway communities to Glacier National Park like Whitefish rely on the economic significance visitors bring to the park while fostering destination stewardship in order to ensure community livability into the future. According to the National Park Service, visitors to Glacier National Park spent an estimated $356 million in local gateway communities during 2019. An estimated $146 million of those dollars were spent on lodging and an estimated $57.4 million on restaurants.

The positive economic impact of park visitors is undeniable, and our local communities and businesses would not have such vibrant places to work and play without it. We understand economic vitality goes hand-in-hand with being good stewards to these incredible destinations and maintaining a future-focused view.

Explore Whitefish is currently focused on our “Be a Friend of The Fish” campaign which aims to spread awareness on being stewards of the community, taking care of natural spaces for future generations, leading with kindness and giving back.

The ticketed entry system for the Going-to-the-Sun Road is in line with a focus on destination stewardship. This adaptive management traffic tool will be in place to create realistic expectations for visitors and ultimately a better experience, while also reducing impacts. By asking people to plan ahead and allowing the park to manage visitation, we anticipate a more positive user experience with less crowding than in recent years.

For the past several years, both Whitefish and Glacier National Park have experienced significant peak season visitation growth. Visitation trends have also been exacerbated by the pandemic. Natural resources, wildlife, infrastructure, services, frontline staff and visitor experiences have all been impacted. This status quo during the summer months is no longer tenable without everyone working together to lend a hand and to be part of the solution.

Inviting everyone to “Be a Friend of The Fish” means taking it slow, showing respect and kindness, recreating responsibly, and being a steward of the land. We also ask visitors to bring that mentality into their visit to Glacier National Park. We are requesting visitors partner with us to contribute to the well-being of our community (and bring a little patience, too).

It is more than timely for not only Glacier National Park but also the National Park Service to take action to preserve the very places they strive to protect. While implementing reservation or timed entry systems in an equitable manner is not an easy challenge, it is a crucial one the National Park Service is currently addressing with the additional announcement of ticketed reservations at Zion, Yosemite, Acadia and Rocky Mountain national parks. And in tandem, destination communities must take action to ensure their culture and unique attributes remain intact.

Alongside these major destinations, we too welcome visitors who are willing to step up and play an important role in supporting our communities and preserving our public lands. We trust the practiced expertise of Glacier National Park’s leadership staff and remain confident in their commitment and ability to balance resource protection and economic vitality with the many needs of the park and its gateway communities.

Dylan Boyle is executive director of Explore Whitefish. Sarah Lundstrum is Glacier Program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association.

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