Yesterday a large fire started in the heart of Glacier National Park. Located just off of the Going to the Sun Road (the park’s main motorway and major attraction), the Reynolds Wildland fire has grown to nearly 2,000 acres. Although fire is a natural component of the park’s ecosystem and ecology, the sheer size and central location of the fire has lead it to cause quite an uproar here at headquarters. All campgrounds, hikers, and employees east of Rising Sun have been evacuated. For visitors this means limiting their visits to only select areas of the park. For those employees located in St. Mary, this means temporarily relocating the west side of the park (where I live).
A few weeks ago, the Glacier Rim Fire started in the North Fork region of the park. Smaller, less sudden, and in a less populated more fire ridden area of the park, Glacier Rim was seemingly normal. For this reason there were few evacuations, smaller impacts on visitors, and overall less commotion. My only impression of Glacier Rim was the slight haze of smoke over Lake McDonald and the surrounding mountains.
Reynolds Wildland, on the other hand, has made a larger mark on the park as well as myself. It wasn’t until I remembered that I had just been in the area of the fire the day before hiking Gunsight Pass, that the sheer magnitude of the fire became clear. I realized that the trail I was hiking would never look the same as it did. Much of that forrest would be destroyed, burnt, and scarred. The bears, moose, elk, squirrels, and other wildlife that inhabit the areas encompassed by the fire would have little chance of survival. Lastly my mind moved to the park and its visitors. How will such a busy and congested park accomplish the endless difficulties involved in housing such a large and fast fire within its boundaries? How will visitors who have planned months or even years (not to mention who have spent many dollars) to visit the park, deal with their limited experience?
Although I understand that fire is a common component of the park, it is an odd feeling observing it from the front lines. From emails from head quarters, to rumors in the community, to the scent of smoke in the air, to early morning phone calls from mom news of the fire is ever present and changing. The pervasive discussion on the behavior of the fire and its far reaching consequences is both exciting and daunting and I am both excited and worried to see how things turn out as the fire either grows or shrinks or migrates in the next days and weeks.
Centennial Volunteer Ambassador at Glacier National Park