WEST GLACIER – For the first time ever, Glacier National Park’s annual visitation has topped three million people.

The park reached the milestone even with the western side of the park shut down because of wildfires.

The park was already well on pace to set a new record early in the summer. For the first time in Glacier’s history, more than one million people had come through the gates in July alone. That was a jump of more than 23 percent from last year.

Park visits continued strong in August. But then much of the west side of the park, including the popular Going-to-the-Sun Road was closed after the Sprague Fire began to rage in September. Lake McDonald Lodge, campgrounds and trails were also shut down.

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The closures caused overall park visits to fall by 19 percent over last September’s numbers.

But even with the drop, visits through the east side entrances remained strong. And by the end of the month visitation was just under 3.2 million people. (3,192,182). That’s a major jump above the 2016 record of 2.9 million. And there are still two months to add to the total.

Last year the 2015 record was also broken by the end of September.

Going-to-the-Sun continues to be the major traffic driver, with traffic up at St. Mary by more than a quarter million visitors in September. Other “one-way” destinations like Many Glacier, Two Medicine and Polebridge also saw increased traffic again this year.

MTN’s Dennis Bragg