SEELEY LAKE – Firefighters battling a multitude of Western Montana blazes find themselves in an already prolonged fire season.
Now, at the height of tourist season, Seeley Lake is closed to the public to make way for emergency aircraft — and some business owners say that spells trouble for local businesses.
Early August is usually the height of tourist season at Seeley Lake, but this year is different — there’s not a soul on the water.
That’s at the request of emergency responders as Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials look to keep the public safe as Canadian super scoopers haul thousands of gallons of water from Seeley Lake to dump on the Rice Ridge Fire burning east of town.
But with the lake closed to recreation, local businesses have noted a decrease in tourists — including the Ice Cream Place, which was on track for a record-breaking year.
“Usually when they start closing the lakes down that’s usually when tourists stop coming,” said Ice Cream Place manager Megan Daniels. “In June and July it was super crazy busy, we were breaking records every day. We have a burger record that we’d broken multiple times this last July and we’re going through a lot of ice cream. More than usual. And then this last weekend we noticed there was a lot more smoke in the area. So now we’ve kind of seen a dip in sales.”
Just down the road from The Ice Cream Place, Lindey’s Prime Steak House is facing similar troubles.
“We’ve noticed a lot of tourism impact due to the smoke and unhealthy air, and it’s — people are not coming up, businesses are closing due to lack of tourism,” said owner Mike Lindemer.
A member of the Seeley Lake Chamber of Commerce who asked not to be identified said that while diminishing tourism is unfortunate, closing the lake to allow fire fighters to work was necessary.
“Their business could burn! If we let these people do their jobs so they can put it out, you’ll still have your business.”
There’s no word yet on how long Seeley Lake will remain closed. The closure applies to all recreation, such as boating, swimming, wading and fishing
Lindsey Edwards shot the video below of a Canadian Super Scooper filling up in Seeley Lake to battle the Rice Ridge fire.
MTN’s Eric Clements