Throwing the Log and Closing the Doors at Lake McDonald

Xanterra closes iconic Glacier Park lodge for the season, prepares for major renovations

By Justin Franz
Joe Allbright, a bellman at Lake McDonald Lodge, carries a ceremonial log onto the dock before tossing it into Lake McDonald during the closing ceremony on Sept. 30, 2015. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK – Despite a blue sky and Lake McDonald’s crystal clear water, the last day of September isn’t exactly an ideal time for a swim in Glacier National Park. But sometimes, when tradition calls, you have to jump right in.

That’s what Joe Allbright and a handful of other Xanterra Parks and Resorts employees did on Sept. 30, closing day for the Lake McDonald Lodge.

In a tradition that was brought back a decade ago, lodge employees gathered in the hotel lobby to commemorate the end of another season. Then, the last bellman grabbed the final burning log from the fireplace and lead a parade of people down to the dock where the wood was thrown into the water. Then, willing employees jump into the lake for one more swim. This year, due to increased fire danger, the final log was already out before it was taken to the lake.

Robby Lucke, a former Red Bus driver and Lake McDonald Lodge historian, said the annual closing ceremony is a way to celebrate the accomplishments of the lodge employees.

“The most important thing we can do as a hotel is honor all of the employees here because they do so much,” he said.

The tradition of throwing the log in the lake dates back to 1914 when the hotel first opened. The lodge’s architect, Kirkland Cutter, had a tradition of lighting the first fire in every building he designed, including Lake McDonald Lodge. A few months after the ceremonial first fire was held, the lodge’s owners decided to have a ceremonial dousing of the fire, and the concept of throwing the last burning log into the lake was born. After throwing the log in, employees would jump in to recover the log so it could be used to start the next year’s fire.

Lucke said the annual throwing of the log lasted through the 1930s, but when Glacier Park’s lodges shut down during World War II the tradition was lost. Then, in 2005, Lucke and Glacier Park, Inc.’s location manager Todd Ashcraft revived it. It has continued under Xanterra, which took over the concessions contract in 2014.

The Lake McDonald Lodge is the last of Xanterra’s in-park properties to close for the season. While most years the lodge sits dormant waiting for spring, this winter will be an especially busy one as Xanterra completes a full renovation of the site. New flooring, furniture and lighting will be installed Xanterra General Manager Marc Ducharme said the company is working hard to preserve the lodge’s history. Xanterra is collaborating with the National Park Service to make sure the renovation is historically accurate. The company is also working extensively with park historians to try and capture the look and feel of the 1910s and 1920s.

“It’s a very complicated project,” Ducharme said. “But we’re going to ensure that everything is historically correct and time period appropriate.”

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