UM scientists study visitation in Glacier park to mitigate environmental damage

(KPAX) Social scientists at the University of Montana and Glacier National Park are studying the impacts of drastic increases of visitation to Glacier National Park.

Jennifer Thomsen, associate professor with the University of Montana, told MTN that the park is already seeing some trails being widened and vegetation trampled because of the tourism increase.

“If we just keep raising the bar as far as how many people are coming, there’s going to be impacts to visitor experience,” said Thomsen. “And sometimes those resources or those places won’t be able to rebound like they used to.”

According to the park, from 2012-2019 Glacier National Park has steadily seen around 2 to 3 million visitors a year.

Mary Riddle, chief of planning and environment compliance with Glacier National Park told MTN that mitigation efforts have been put into place to prevent further erosion.

“They put in water bars in places where new erosion is taking place,” said Riddle. “Where trails have gotten really wide to bring them back in to a standard that’s been established.”

She told MTN that in peak season nine hundred people can hike the High Line Trail a day. She futher explained that during the summer season, the population of Missoula hikes Avalanche Lake Trail.

Iree Wheeler studies visitation patterns using various technologies like infrared beams, road counters and game cameras on rivers. Using this technology Wheeler said she can study hiker’s behaviors and patterns.

However, she told MTN that coronavirus changed some of their visitation patterns.

“A lot of out of state license plates,” said Wheeler. “Arguably more so than normal. Somewhere between sixty to eighty percent out of state license plates.”

Thomsen said that sometimes this attracts people unfamiliar with how to properly recreate in a national park.

“So, are we seeing a different type of visitor that’s more tolerant to crowds, but is maybe less prepared to be in those environments or how to leave no trace,” said Thomsen.

Wheeler said that long term, the park doesn’t know what kind of negative impacts this increase in visitation will have on wildlife. Even something as simple as the park asking visitors to come early to avoid crowds.

“We do know there are species that are very active in the early mornings,” said Wheeler. “So, what does that mean if they need to use Logan Pass to get across to another area and there are already one hundred cars there?”