Fire Update for Western Montana’s Glacier Country

AUGUST 31, 2017: Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park is open for business, folks. But, you may have read the news that Lake McDonald Lodge recently closed early for the season because of air quality issues related to the Sprague Fire. This is certainly not great news, but it comes with the territory—literally. We want to make sure you’re kept up-to-date with accurate information about fire conditions in our region. So here’s the skinny on Lake McDonald Lodge and Glacier National Park.

The Sprague Fire is located a couple of miles away from Lake McDonald Lodge. It’s not currently, nor has it ever been, a threat to the lodge itself, but the resulting smoke is impacting the air quality in the area. And because of the topography of the region, a heavy smoke has been settling in a highly localized area around Lake McDonald Lodge. It’s particularly bad in the evening and early-morning hours, and out of concern for employees who live on-site, Glacier National Park Lodges opted to close the facility for the season.

It’s a real bummer—a bummer for those visitors who had reservations there. But luckily, Glacier National Park Lodges is helping guests find other accommodations. It’s also a bummer for lodge employees, but they’re getting relocated as well.

For those of us planning to enjoy a weeklong stay or weekend getaway in Glacier Park? We still get to! Just to put it in perspective, the Sprague Fire is currently a little over 2,000 acres, and Glacier National Park is 1,013,322 acres. And although the air conditions at Lake McDonald Lodge are bad in the evening, during the day they’re not half bad. And a mere 9 miles down the road from Lake McDonald Lodge at Apgar the air monitoring station readings fluctuate from “good” to “moderate.”

All of the park’s daytime recreational activities are operating as usual. Boat tours on Lake McDonald, horseback riding, whitewater rafting, hiking, fishing and the classic red bus tours on the Going-to-the-Sun Road are all open for business, with minor adjustments in scheduling and routes.

And, because our weather in Western Montana is fickle, weather conditions change frequently, resulting in frequent changes in air quality. Winds and a chance of rain are currently in the forecast, and we here at Glacier Country have been doing the rain dance daily to increase that likelihood.

In the meantime, if you want to check out the Glacier National Park webcams, you can see for yourself what it looks like in one of our favorite parts of the world.

AUGUST 2, 2017: Western Montana

Recently, Western Montana has been experiencing wildland fires, or fires that take place mostly in the backcountry and are usually sparked by lightning. They’re a natural part of our ecosystem. One of the results of these fires is that the air can become smoky, and occasionally plans have to be altered because of a road closure. We’re here to help in case either of these situations impact your trip to Montana’s Glacier Country.

Find gorgeous views and blue skies around every bend on the east side of Glacier National Park.

It’s unfortunate—we agree. We’d rather it weren’t smoky either. But it’s not calamitous, and there are many, many places in Western Montana, and the state in general, that are smoke-free. And if there does happen to be some smoke in the air, we have lots of indoor activities to keep visitors entertained. Museums? Breweries? Arts? Great dining options? We’ve got it all.

Things to Do in Glacier Country

Secondly, check out some of the resources below. They’ll let you know where the fires are (or, more importantly, where they aren’t), where the smoke is and if your visit to Western Montana will be impacted by either. Chances are, it won’t be, but if it is, here are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. You’re safe. Most of the fires are in the backcountry, miles from civilization and any structures. Montana is home to 3,443,038 acres of wilderness, and most of the fires are there. If, by chance, a fire gets close to a community, our firefighting experts communicate, evacuate if necessary, and communicate some more. You will not find yourself unwittingly in the midst of a wildfire while driving down the highway. Ever. Public safety is always the first concern. If an area is open, it is safe.
  2. Montana is huge. Vast, in fact. Over 145,556 square miles or 94,109,440 acres, to be precise. If you read that a fire is 6,400 acres, keep it in perspective, as that’s only a tiny, tiny fraction of Montana’s total acreage. Sometimes newspaper headlines or social media posts can be unnecessarily dramatic and imply that Montana as a whole is “on fire.” It sounds better than to say .000068 of Montana is on fire, which is actually more accurate.
  3. Fire is a natural part of our region’s ecology. Most fires are started by lightning, and are responsible for maintaining the health and perpetuity of certain fire-dependent ecosystems. We don’t pretend to be scientists, but we do have a lot of scientists in our area and resources in our partners at the state and federal levels, and we’ve attached a link to fire ecology below.
  4. And, because we always think the glass is at least half full here in Glacier Country, when the sky is a bit smoky, the sunsets are truly phenomenal. And, morel mushrooms, which are comparable to the delicious caviar of the mushroom family, like to grow in post-fire areas. We like that.

We’re already looking forward to a great morel mushroom crop next summer!

Here are some links that will help you plan your trip, and help you make informed travel decisions. Check back often, as these sites are updated daily.

We are lucky to have many webcams set up across Western Montana so we can see the beauty of Glacier Country at any time. Here are a few so you can see what is happening right now in our area:

If your travel plans have been affected by the current closures in Western Montana, Glacier Country Tourism’s call center can help you revise your travel plans. Chat online here or call 800.338.5072.

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