Dear RV Shrink:
What a crazy travel season. We thought this was all going to blow over so we stuck with our plans to spend time in Glacier National Park this summer. It is a place we have always loved and wanted to explore more fully now that we are retired. We mistakenly figured it would be a good year to visit busy Yellowstone and then move up to Glacier. We figured that visitation would be way down because of foreign travel restrictions. What we didn’t take into consideration was the fact that most campgrounds would not open. Why would the National Park Service not open campgrounds as the rest of the country is opening for business? Does this make any sense? —Frustrated in Flathead
I know it is disappointing, but you have to take into consideration the logistics involved. There are a lot of moving parts to open these parks for such a short season. With Glacier, it is probably a three-month season. To accommodate 3 million visitors in that short time frame, the park needs a lot of staffing. In a normal year, hiring seasonal workers is a logistics nightmare. I would think this year would be impossible for the park and the seasonal workers to make a time commitment.
Glacier is opening in phases, but there are so many variables. Concessionaires are waiting to make commitments, the Blackfeet Nation on the east side are not yet ready to welcome millions of visitors, and the shuttle system will possibly not operate. I am sure most campgrounds will remain closed even if the pandemic subsides because of staffing issues.
It could still be a good time to visit if you are inclined to persevere. My suggestion would be to utilize the Flathead National Forest Campgrounds on Glacier’s perimeter. It will mean long-distance driving to access the park, but many of these campgrounds are located in real estate as beautiful as Glacier itself. I would assume some or all of the commercial parks along Hwy. 2, just west of West Glacier, will be opened for the season.
If nothing else. it will be an experience. You will find the park very different than you have in past visits. If the phase openings go as planned, many sections of the park will be accessible with much less impact from visitation because of closed campgrounds and few alternate transportation choices. The iconic Red Buses (Jammers) have been parked for the entire season. It is still unclear if a shuttle system will operate in phase 2.
This decrease in traffic has already proven to change wildlife habits. This could be an incredible year to see wildlife. There could be limited trail access, but as the season progresses you may be able to backcountry camp if you are so inclined.
Life is an adventure. This will just give you more stories to tell. The park is working with local health authorities, the Blackfeet Nation and the State of Montana to help keep visitors safe. Do your part to follow the guidelines and enjoy the natural aspects of the park without all the noise of the usual commercial infrastructure.
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, right?
—Keep Smilin’, Richard Mallery a.k.a. Dr. R.V. Shrink
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