Northwest Montana is many things to many people: home, a getaway, a wild place of adventure, the place you plant your heart and wait for the rhythms of nature to help it to grow.
But one thing Northwest Montana is not? A secret. At least not anymore, according to the Flathead Beacon.
Summer is the busiest time of year for the Flathead Valley and surrounding areas, due to the incredible magnetism of the landscape and the welcoming and laidback ethos of mountain culture.
Glacier Park International Airport is posting the highest passenger numbers in its history, hotel occupancy rates are bustling and new hotels come online each year. But many visitors get here via modes of transportation other than planes, and stay in campgrounds or RV parks, a trend showing high demand for these kinds of overnight stays.
“We are full. We’re even having a busier spring and fall season,” said Faith Bengtson, assistant manager at the West Glacier Kampgrounds of America (KOA). “We’re still turning people away and it’s mostly RVs that we’re turning away.”
RV travel is back on the road in a strong way after buckling somewhat under the pressure of the recession. According to the RV Industry Association, wholesale RV shipments reached their highest annual level with 504,000 units in 2017, with a total retail value exceeding $20 billion.
That’s a 13% increase over 2016, which saw $17.7 billion in retail value.
Bengtson said the West Glacier KOA saw this trend coming and in 2013 applied for an expansion to allow 56 more RV spaces. The expansion was approved in 2015 and it filled up almost immediately. In recent years, the campground has also added 22 deluxe cabins, three deluxe tent sites, and 30 patio sites to keep up with camper demand. They even expanded their restaurant to accommodate more people.
“It is crazy; it’s full every day and we’re turning people away,” Bengtson said.
It’s not just the West Glacier KOA that saw this trend working its way to Montana. Since 2008, Flathead County has approved multiple RV park projects on its zoned land, adding at least 143 spaces.
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