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Officials discuss missing persons cases in Montana national parks

In the last decade Glacier National Park currently has two open missing persons cases, Yellowstone has one active case from 1991. Photo: NBC Montana{p}{/p}
In the last decade Glacier National Park currently has two open missing persons cases, Yellowstone has one active case from 1991. Photo: NBC Montana

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Glacier National Park is topping over 3 million visitors a year, Yellowstone National Park is seeing over 4 million a year, but it’s not always a vacation or a day trip for everyone.

“People that want to be found, we clearly still can’t find them, just because of the amazing landscape we have here in Glacier -- the cliffs, the water, the vegetation, there’s just so much going on here that it’s very hard if we don’t have any clues to go on,” Glacier National Park Chief Ranger Paul Austin said.

In the last decade, Glacier National Park currently has two open missing persons cases.

According to Yellowstone’s records, they have one active missing person case from 1991.

In Glacier, on July 8, 2019, Mark Sinclair of Whitefish was last seen hiking the Highline Trail. His photo is still on the trail.

This summer, Barry Tragen of Columbia Falls failed to return to his vehicle near Kintla Lake, both men leaving rangers with not much to go on.

A lot of people know about those two cases. Officials say while those two active cases are well known, searches for missing people or rescues aren’t uncommon -- every day they are responding to those types of calls.

“It’s really a common occurrence, and part of this is planning from in terms of hikers overthinking, maybe it’s going to take them less time and also family members expecting people to be incredibly prompt, ‘They said they’d back at 5, its 5:05, where are they?’ as opposed to more of a window,” said Austin.

That’s the same case for Yellowstone, “Exact same thing, the majority of our calls are somebody’s you know went on a hike or somebody’s in this boardwalk area and we haven’t seen them in 30 minutes, and usually they are resolved within 30 minutes or an hour, that’s definitely a majority of them,” Yellowstone National Park Chief Ranger Sarah Davis said.

Austin tells us that technically the searches for both men in Glacier are still ongoing.

For Sinclair, they know he went down the Highline Trail, but then after that point there’s not enough clues to lead them in a specific direction.

As for Tragen, they found a pair of sunglasses believed to be his, but that’s all.

Clues may lead nowhere.

“Something we need to look at is how much are we going to risk if we can’t find any clues looking over cliffs and using aviation assets; at some point you have to scale back, because we still have the other 3 million people to respond to and take care of,” said Austin.

Officials say search and rescue efforts are primarily the parks responsibility, but for both parks, local sheriff’s departments and outside resources are always a big help.

Just last week, Yellowstone used local resources to find a missing hiker.

“After a while, we weren’t finding her. We had some tracks, but she was moving away from us, and at that point we brought in a helicopter, and she actually ended up on Forest Service land. By the time we found her we were communicating with the Forest Service and communicating with the local sheriff's department about 'If we don’t find her today, we're going to need to set up a bigger team,'” said Davis.

With so many people coming through their gates, we asked it it's possible more people are missing than the data shows. “In terms of missing people, that might happen, but eventually someone misses somebody,” said Austin. “I can’t really speculate on that, all we can do is look for who we know are missing,” said Davis.

If you plan to visit these parks officials tell us to always be prepared and give your party grace time, because these mountains can take your breath away.

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