Makoshika Park near Glendive on pace to host 100,000 visitors

By: 
Jason Stuart
Yellowstone Newspapers

A group of hikers explore Makoshika State Park in far eastern Montana. Visitor numbers are up this year. 

Yellowstone Newspapers photo

 

 

 

 

Visitation to Makoshika State Park continues to boom as the park is on pace to see 100,000 visitors pass through its gates for the second consecutive year.

Makoshika received 100,600 visitors in 2016, according to park manager Chris Dantic, the first time in the park’s long history it had exceeded that number. Through the end of November of this year, the park had seen 92,000 visitors, and Dantic said while he’s not sure if the final number will quite match last year’s figure, he is confident it will exceed the 100,000 mark again.

“We’re currently at 92,000, and we’ve got another month, so we should definitely be over 100,000,” Dantic said last week. “I don’t know if we’ll be over or under last year’s total, but it will be close.”

Dantic said there are several factors which he thinks have helped increase visitation to Makoshika the past couple of years. He pointed to the new park programs he has introduced this past year as one factor. He also said that when USA Today named Makoshika the best travel destination in Montana this past summer, that seems to have increased interest in the park as well.

“So that kind of went viral, so that definitely helped,” Dantic said of the USA Today ranking.

Online postings and social media as a whole appear to be driving more people to Makoshika, Dantic added, further noting that photos and postings shared on social media has led to Makoshika landing on several “Top 10” lists on travel websites the past couple of years. He said that, more than anything, seems to be responsible for piquing travelers’ interest in making Makoshika one of their stops as they travel through Montana.

“The social media aspect has really helped the last couple of years,” Dantic said. “That’s definitely helped us in 2017, getting all these visitors who’ve seen all this added attention we’ve received.”

The extra attention and visitation Makoshika appears to be getting is music to the ears of Glendive Chamber of Commerce executive director Christine Whitlatch.

“I think it’s exciting that the world around us has found what a beautiful asset we have here,” Whitlatch said.

She noted that increased visitation to Makoshika means more opportunity for local businesses and a more vibrant local economy, adding that Glendive is just starting to scratch the surface of what Makoshika really could mean to the community economically.

“I think as we continue to strengthen the idea that this region could be a tourist draw, we will open up more opportunities for specialty retailers to meet the needs of those visitors,” Whitlatch said. “I think we are just beginning to realize we could be a tourist destination.”

Asked if all the extra visitors already passing through are starting to stress the park’s small staff of four full-time employees, Dantic said not yet, but he is planning ahead to bring in additional workers in 2018.

“It hasn’t (stressed us) yet, but I’m thinking ahead of the game, so we’ll actually have more workers next summer than we ever have before,” he said.

Dantic has secured an additional AmeriCorps worker for Makoshika who will be at the park for most of 2018, which is in addition to the AmeriCorps worker that will come in during the summer season, something the park has done for years. He said he is also in the process of setting up an intern for next summer who will focus on paleontology programming.

He also noted the park will be getting a hand from a group from the American Hiking Society, who plan to stay in the park for a week next summer to work on improving the park’s trail system.

With all the additional help, Dantic said he is looking to entice even more people to start coming to Makoshika by adding even more park programming.

“I want this summer to be a lot more fun,” he said.

Among the new things that will be in place in the park next summer, Dantic noted Dave Fuqua’s “Dino Dave’s Paleo Adventures” will begin operating, he plans to add some live music performances to the lineup at the park amphitheater and he is planning to move the summer “Campfire Program” presenter series from Thursday nights to Friday nights.

Another way Dantic plans to increase the appeal of Makoshika is by starting to offer programs and events on the weekend, something the park has never done before and something that Dantic said they definitely need to start doing to enhance the visitor experience.

“That’s when we have all our visitors in the park is on the weekends, and we really haven’t done anything before on the weekends, so I’m changing that,” Dantic said. “So while they’re here, they can have something to do other than just hiking on the trails and visiting the visitor center.”

All that said, there’s one thing park supporters say Makoshika needs more than anything in order to entice more visitors and to stop the bleeding of potential overnight visitors who all too often turn away from camping in Makoshika, which is a potable water line into the park and a new campground to go with it. Efforts to get the Montana Legislature to fund that project this past session were unsuccessful, but with Makoshika set to go over 100,000 visitors for the second consecutive year, Whitlatch said neither the state nor the local community can continue to ignore the missed investment opportunity a water line and new campground in Makoshika could bring.

“(Visitors are) coming, they’re coming in greater numbers than ever and they’re coming back, and that gives us our strongest argument yet for raising funding to get water to the park,” Whitlatch said. “Those numbers just continue to build that argument.”

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