Preserving the Park’s Backcountry Character

As visitation to Glacier increases, backcountry visits are becoming more frequent. Park staff and local users have long reported increasing day-use hikers, rafters and boaters throughout the park, but without documentation and analysis, these observations are of little value in developing sound management actions. This project will document current visitation and use levels throughout the park’s backcountry and wilderness areas including the North Fork, Many Glacier, Goat Haunt, Middle Fork, Two Medicine, Walton and Belly River. The park expects that over time, changing local and regional demographics, economic trends, technological advances, management actions and climate change will substantially alter current and visitation and use patterns throughout the park.

Collecting baseline numbers now will allow managers to better understand how management actions within the Going to the Sun corridor affect the rest of the park and adapt those actions as appropriate to protect the park resources and visitor’s experiences. It will also help us to better understand road, trail and river use outside the corridor.

Trail and vehicle-use data collected by the park within the Going to the Sun Road corridor significantly changed our understanding about the level of use on the corridor trails. Use levels on the Avalanche Lake trail have more than doubled since the last measurements 24 years ago — a localized increase that far outpaces the increase in overall park visitation during the same years. Project funds will be used to install trail counters at various locations throughout the park and to calibrate and analyze the data collected over a two-year period.

Documenting the number of rafts currently floating the North Fork, the number of riders entering the Belly, or the number of hikers at Walton will prove critical in the coming years as the park seeks to implement management strategies designed to preserve not only the park resources but also the character of the backcountry experience associated with Glacier National Park.