We have seen an uptick in wildland fire activity in Western Montana and our news outlets and social media feeds are reporting more each day. Every time there's a lightning storm we experience a rash of activity including some smoke from surrounding areas like Idaho, Washington and Canada. Conditions are hot and dry, so we've got potential for negative impacts to escalate.
To help prepare, Glacier Country Tourism, Explore Whitefish, Discover Kalispell and Destination Missoula have been reviewing and updating our wildfire and smoke communications/messaging plan. We have broken this plan into three categories: preventive, during and recovery. Keep in mind this is NOT about preventing the actual wildland fire and smoke (we will leave that messaging to our partners in state and federal government) but about how we respond to the impacts it has on our visitors. The Glacier Country Crisis Communication Team (GCCCT) team has created strategy and efforts for each:
Industry communications outreach will point partners to this page where businesses can access our fire/smoke toolkit - giving our partners access to the resources and information they need to share with visitors and constituents. We will share the toolkit in all partner newsletters, partner webpages and via a digital campaign aimed at preparing our communities BEFORE a fire/smoke event occurs.
Glacier Country Tourism and our communications partners have drafted language over the past several wildland fire seasons to help avoid cancellations of future reservations and to help visitors enjoy their visit if a wildland fire causes temporary closures or smoke conditions in the Glacier Country region. Prior to any potential crisis, it is always good to review protocols should a fire begin to impact our visitors. (Download as a PDF)
Here are a few things to keep in mind when talking with people.
Provide specific information, for example (from 2018)…. …..
“The majority of Glacier National Park is open. Open areas include Apgar, Fish Creek, Two Medicine, St. Mary, Many Glacier and the North Fork.”
Give perspective on what is open:
“Glacier National Park is over a million acres.” Use percentages like “2,500 acres—or less than 3% of Glacier National Park—are currently burning, while approximately 25% of the park is temporary closed for wildfire management.”
However, approximately half of the Going-to-the-Sun Road is under temporary closure on the west side, impacting visitor access.
“Visitors may travel 2 miles from West Glacier to the foot of Lake McDonald at Apgar on the Going-to-the-Sun Road.”
“29.5 miles of the Going-to-the-Sun Road are currently closed between the foot of Lake McDonald (near Apgar) and Logan Pass.”
“18.5 miles of the Going-to-the-Sun Road are open from St. Mary to Logan Pass on the east side.”
“The Logan Pass Visitor Center is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.”
Please remember to check the fire information sites below for current information. Current fire conditions are considered extreme. Please see guidelines below to assist visitors with information.
Historically, many wildland fires have been human-caused, so reminders for guests to practice fire safety are important. While recreating, people are encouraged to:
Here are some links that will help you stay informed in case there are wildland fires in Western Montana and help your visitors make informed travel decisions. Check back often, as these sites are updated daily.
Glacier National Park – @GlacierNPS and facebook.com/GlacierNPS.
Glacier National Park Dashboard – nps.gov/applications/glac/dashboard
We are also lucky to have many webcams set up across Western Montana so we can see the beauty of Glacier Country at any time. You can also see if there's smoke in the area.
Here are a few so you can see what is happening right now in our area:
And, although I think we'd all agree we'd rather not have to deal with smoke, it’s not calamitous, and if one area is smoky, there are always many, many places in Western Montana, and the state in general, that aren't. 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.
If you ever have to revise your travel plans in Western Montana because of wildland fires or smoke, Glacier Country Tourism’s call center can help you. Chat online here or call 800.338.5072.
Glacier Country Tourism has been a valuable partner to the community-based work of our rural economic development organization. Their support and technical assistance has contributed to the success of Thompson Falls Main Street as a statewide model of planning and tourism infrastructure projects.