Glacier National Park: Thick smoke forces early closure of Lake McDonald Lodge

Lake McDonald Lodge was expected to close September 27 for the season. (Glacier National Park via Facebook)

Lake McDonald Lodge will close for the season Wednesday due to “very localized but very significant” air quality concerns, Glacier National Park and Xanterra Parks and Resorts announced late Tuesday.

Employee health concerns prompted the closure after air monitoring showed some readings at the “upper end of hazardous,” Xanterra officials said. All other park accommodations remain open.

The lodge was expected to close September 27 for the season.

The Sprague Fire is not currently and has not been a threat to the Lake McDonald developed area, park managers said. However, heavy smoke from the fire has been settling in a highly localized area around Lake McDonald Lodge.

Fearing for its employees’ health, Xanterra made the call to close overnight accommodations, retail, and food and beverage services at the Lake McDonald Lodge area. Because employees work and live on site, they have a longer duration exposure to the air conditions.

Visitors with reservations for Lake McDonald Lodge should contact Glacier National Park Lodges at: http://www.glaciernationalparklodges.com or call 1-855-733-4522.

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.

At the request of the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service installed an air quality monitoring station at Lake McDonald Lodge on Sunday. Two days of data showed air quality levels fluctuating between “good” and beyond the uppermost limit of “hazardous.” The hazardous air quality readings have occurred in the evening and earlier morning hours.

The park maintains an air quality monitoring station in Apgar. Those readings have fluctuated between “good” and “moderate” for the same period, further supporting the observation that poor air quality appears to be concentrated in a very small geographic area of the park near the Lake McDonald Lodge area.

The public can access the air quality monitoring station at Lake McDonald Lodge and state air quality information at the following sites. For an air quality index: http://airnow.gov/index.cfm?action=aqibasics.aqi. For Lake McDonald Lodge air monitor: https://wrcc.dri.edu/cgi-bin/rawMAIN4.pl?ids215+29+08+17+M. For Montana smoke readings: https://wrcc.dri.edu/cgi-bin/smoke.pl.

Visitors can also view the park’s webcams to get a visual sense of air quality at many locations across the park. Fire officials expect the Sprague fire will continue to burn until the area receives significant precipitation later this fall.

Glacier National Park is over one million acres in size. The smoke impacts from the Sprague fire and other regional fires “affect only a small portion of the park. All other frontcountry park facilities are open,” Glacier Park emphasized in a Tuesday night announcement on Facebook.