Last updated: August 5, 2015
Fires are both awesome and awful. They change our landscapes in ways some of us could never imagine; what was once green is now black, what was once dark and damp is now full of sunlight. The lush paradise we’ve all become so familiar with transforms into an almost alien landscape.
In the Lake McDonald valley, we see the effects of fire every single day. In the forests of Apgar we walk in the shadow of the 1929 Halfmoon Fire, barely visible to the untrained eye. Along the shores of the lake, we admire the dramatic changes left by 2003’s Robert Fire and enjoy the plentiful fireweed and huckleberry patches left in its wake.
Today, in the midst of multiple fires in and outside of the park, it can be easy for the good to get lost in the smoke. 2 weeks later, the Reynolds Creek Fire continues to burn and is approaching 70% containment. To add insult to injury, the park began receiving smoke from fires farther west just a few days ago. A team of over 600 people has been working day-in and day-out on this fire, and rangers and visitors alike are eternally grateful for their efforts.
As the fire continues to burn, it receives less media attention. People talk, rumors fly, and as time passes rangers are expected to perfect their crystal ball reading abilities. “When will the road open? How long will the fire burn?” Well, Logan Pass is accessible from the west side of the park and providing access on the east side is a park priority - as long as it is safe for the fire fighters, employees, and visitors. As far as the fire goes, we anticipate that it will continue to burn until we get snow.
It’s easy to get caught up in it all - to see the charred landscape and think it’s a tragedy. I’m the first to agree that there are unfortunate parts to this fire, or any fire. It stinks to hike in smoke, or to miss Logan Pass during your first or only trip to Glacier… But I promise you, the benefits eventually outweigh the drawbacks. Fire hits nature’s reset button - sunlight floods areas and provides the opportunity for many new plant species to grow. Wood-boring beetles and woodpeckers flock to burned trees in search of food. Huckleberries, fireweed, and beargrass all race on the scene.
Occasionally after a long day at work, I think to myself, “I wish I could fast-forward the Reynolds Creek burn area so people could see how beneficial fire is. If only they could see what is going to happen!” And then I remember that I don’t need to fast forward anything because the benefits are already visible all around us. We are walking through a living natural history book where fire is king.
In the midst of the smoke and ash, I’m looking forward to what will be. I am thankful for fire each time I hear the distinct sound of aspen leaves trembling or gaze upon the big purple blooms of fireweed. In fact, I think I can taste the huckleberries already…
"If the Going to the Sun Road is closed, where else can I go?"
If I got a quarter every time I heard this question, I would be a rich ranger! Luckily our park is comprised of many individual valleys, which means that almost all of the park is still accessible. Keep updated on what’s accessible by checking our Current Road Status website. Lake McDonald to Logan Pass, Two Medicine, Many Glacier, Cutbank, and some of St. Mary is still open for hiking and camping galore!
So get out there, be safe, and enjoy your park!