The vacation cabins that ring Seeley Lake emptied long before Labor Day this year. The tourists who come to swim, fish, and boat on the lake where Norman Maclean spent his summers had taken their fun and their recreation dollars elsewhere. Even many of the town’s full-time residents cleared out — as the Missoula City-County Health Department urgently recommended.
It happened because Seeley Lake, where the growing tourist trade has superseded Pyramid Mountain Lumber Co. as the primary driver of the economy, had turned into a hellscape. Smoke from the nearby Rice Ridge fire rolled down the surrounding hillsides with each night’s cooling air and filled the valley with so many pollutants that the county’s air-quality monitor was often pushed beyond its limits. Visibility shrank to less than a quarter mile, and streetlights along the main drag came on during cloudless days. [Read more…]