Glacier National Park (MTN News graphic)

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK – Flathead County is near the top when it comes to bringing in tourism dollars to the state, according to a new University of Montana study.

The Montana Non-Residential Spending Report shows that 12 million tourists spent just over $3 billion in Montana in 2016 and Flathead County came in second among all counties, with $506 million.

One of the largest attractions to tourists in Northwest Montana is Glacier National Park. Even with the fires that created a halt to summer, sooner than most had hoped, the park is still on pace to break its annual visitation record for the fourth year in a row.

“We had a really big year at Glacier, of course, there was those fires that did start and they impacted visitation in September. We saw over three million people, thus far. Of course, you know it’s still 2017 so we’ll see what those numbers look like at the end of the year,” said Glacier National Park spokeswoman Lauren Alley.

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From restaurants and bars to lodging companies and retail outfitters, many businesses across the Flathead Valley have seen a correlation between their customers and visitors at glacier national park.

“There’s just more and more visitors every year and there’s no signs its even going to slow down. Just people want access to the lake. If they come here for Glacier and find out, ‘oh wow you have a lake here too and it’s humungous’ — a lot of them don’t even know what’s here and then they come here and they’re like oh it’s a two for one,” said business owner Jill Johnson.

B.J. and Jill Johnson have owned and operated a kayak rental company — Spoke and Paddle — in the Flathead Valley for five years.

This season they decided to expand in the wake of the high volume of tourists coming into the valley the last few years. They are opening a new branch of the business that is a house for lodging and a storage place for bikes and canoes for tours they will run in summer.

B.J. says he hopes to get a snowshoe trips to Glacier approved soon. They have already seen a significant growth in the company and don’t see the flow of tourism stopping anytime soon.

“We thought we had a lot of traffic last August. On our website, we had 40,000 hits on our website but that’s changed exponentially for 2017 in July alone we had 101,421 hits on our website.

It just so happens that same month was when Glacier National Park saw their record-breaking month of over one million people.

Gallatin County topped the state with visitors spending $676 million.

-Jack Ginsburg reporting for MTN News