Glacier National Park’s study looking at human interactions with mountain goat and bighorn sheep is part of the park’s effort to develop a Going-to-the-Sun Road corridor management plan.
“We’re seeing that park visitation is increasing, and the trends indicate it’s likely to continue,” said Mary Riddle, chief of planning and environmental compliance at Glacier.
While those additional visitors are good news for area businesses, they are putting a strain on some of the park’s resources.
“We’ve seen substantial increases in hikers on the trails in the (Going-to-the-Sun) corridor,” Riddle said.
For example, hikers on the Avalanche Creek trail, a popular trail on the west side of the park, are up 250 percent since 1988.
“It’s been many years since that first count was done, but that’s a pretty substantial increase,” she said.
All those hikers are leading to widened trails, as well as more litter and human waste.
“Along with that, there’s more wildlife encounters,” Riddle said.
Glacier is working to develop a plan that will tackle those issues and also deal with the increasing traffic on the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
“It will be a plan that will ultimately present a way to manage the transportation and visitor use in the corridor,” Riddle said.
The plan could include ways to manage use on the trails, such as making some trails one-direction during peak season or hardening the surface of certain trails.
The plan also will look at transportation on the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Glacier National Park introduced a free shuttle system in 2007 to reduce traffic congestion on the Going-to-the-Sun Road during a 10-year construction project.
While that shuttle has been popular, it didn’t lead to less traffic on the road.
“We’ve continued to see parking lots that are still full,” Riddle said. “The road has continued to be congested even with the shuttle use.”
The shuttles provide transportation on the Going-to-the-Sun Road from the Apgar Transit Center on the west side of the park to St. Mary Visitor Center on the east side.
The shuttle makes about a dozen stops in between, and visitors can get off the shuttle wherever they like. Shuttles run every 30 to 60 minutes, allowing visitors to get off, look around or go for a hike and get back on a later shuttle.
The plan will look at how to manage the shuttle after road construction is finished in 2017.
“The shuttle system we’ve put in place is not financially sustainable,” Riddle said.
Gate fees fund the day-to-day operation of the system but do not bring in enough money to replace buses or pay for substantial repairs.
The plan will look at how to tackle that issue, as well as other possible changes to the shuttle system, such as lengthening the season or increasing the number of shuttle trips per day.
All that increased traffic on Going-to-the-Sun Road also is creating an increase in noise for hikers. Visitor surveys show that hikers can hear vehicle noise far into the backcountry. Visitors also report feeling crowded on trails.
Park officials are developing alternatives that will be available for public review near the end of the year. The plan should be complete in 2016.