Posted: Sep 17, 2012 9:20 PM by Dennis Bragg - KPAX News
Updated: Sep 18, 2012 7:10 AM
MISSOULA- Locals may be beyond tired of breathing fire smoke in the Missoula and Bitterroot valleys over the past month, but the smoky skies aren't keeping the tourists away from the Treasure State.
The Missoula Visitor and Convention Bureau says 2012 has turned out to be a banner year for tourism, with visitation up. And that hasn't really gone downhill since the wildfires began generating tons of fire smoke over the past month.
Barbara Neilan, the executive director of Destination Missoula, said surprisingly, they haven't gotten many calls on it.
"Our call center has actually had one call, from somebody who was doing The Dirty Dash and they had an asthma problem. So they wanted to know if things were going to be okay or not if they came. Other than that we really haven't had very many phone calls on the smoke."
In fact, Saturday's Dirty Dash was a perfect example of local people also being determined to have a good time despite the smoke, with more than 3,000 turning out to have fun for charity.
Neilan says she didn't expect that, given the conditions.
"I was surprised that the smoke didn't hinder people. The same thing with the Grizzly game. You know they had over 24,000 people in attendance. So, you know, people come out, they want to enjoy and they want to do things."
Because fires are a part of Montana life, tourism leaders came up with contingency plans several years ago, giving visitors options to use when the air turns smoky.
"We try and move people around and give them great suggestions of things to do inside if it's bad outside. So, you know we keep them busy if it's not a very great day outside," Neilan said.
And because the fire smoke varies greatly from day-to-day, and city to city across the state, Neilan says that networking helps visitors make those Montana memories, even when the views aren't at their best.