Lake McDonald Lodge Closes Early Due to Heavy Wildfire Smoke

Officials: Sprague Fire does not present immediate threat to the Lake McDonald developed area

By Dillon Tabish
Xanterra Parks & Resorts employees move furniture as they close Lake McDonald Lodge due to smoke conditions from the Sprague Fire burning in Glacier National Park on Aug. 30, 2017. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Updated: Aug. 30, 9:45 a.m.

As firefighters across the region attack several large blazes, Lake McDonald Lodge in Glacier National Park is closing a month early due to heavy smoke from a nearby wildfire, according to hotel operators.

Xanterra Parks & Resorts, the concessionaire that operates the iconic hotel 10 miles inside the national park’s western entrance along Going-to-the-Sun Road, announced Tuesday evening that it was closing the site due to smoke conditions from the Sprague Fire, which is burning approximately two miles to the east.

The fire does not present an immediate threat to the Lake McDonald developed area, according to fire managers. Like much of the Flathead Valley, heavy smoke has smothered the area and is settling in a highly localized area near the Lake McDonald Lodge. Xanterra officials decided to close the lodge due to health concerns for both employees and guests, according to the announcement. The lodge, built in 1913 with 82 guest rooms, was scheduled to close Sept. 27.

“It’s heartbreaking that we’re having to displace so many holidaymakers who had made plans for a long time to visit Glacier Park,” said Marc Ducharme, general manager of the Glacier Division at Xanterra Parks & Resorts.

“It’s a health safety issue.”

Ducharme said an air quality monitoring device had been set up on the lawn at the lodge earlier this week and registered very unhealthy conditions.

“The cautionary statement for those levels is to stay indoors and we didn’t want to invite guests into a very unhealthy climate.”

Ducharme said the hotel was fully booked with guests every night through Sept. 27.

No other visitor services in the Lake McDonald area are being adjusted at this time. Red bus tours that typically stop at Lake McDonald Lodge will have their routes adjusted slightly.

Western Montana is blanketed in smoke as several large wildfires rage, including one near Seeley Lake that has forced the evacuation of nearly 600 homes.

Air quality is considered “unhealthy” in the Flathead Valley due to fires in the surrounding area, according to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. Children and adults with respiratory diseases should avoid prolonged activities outdoors, and everyone else, especially children, should limit outdoor exertion, according to the DEQ.

The Sprague Fire has burned 1,575 acres above Crystal Ford on the Gunsight Pass Trail. A Northern Rockies Type II Wildland Fire Management Team is now managing the fire and 135 personnel are assigned to the incident.

Firefighters are protecting Sperry Chalet and Mountain Brown Lookout. Structure protection is in place, including two water tanks, hose lays and sprinklers at the chalet. The chalet is located in a rocky, subalpine environment with sparse vegetation. Fire managers are confident that these structure protection measures and personnel can protect the historic buildings if needed.

Closures remain in place for the Gunsight Pass Trail from Lake McDonald to Gunsight Pass, including all secondary trails. The Lincoln Lake Trail is also closed. Some backcountry campgrounds are closed due to fire activity. All front country campgrounds remain open. Visit http://go.nps.gov/glacconditions for trail and road info.