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Seeley Lake smoke

A contract fire firefighter stands outside his truck in downtown Seeley Lake last summer. From early July until mid-September, local businesses that rely on tourist dollars took a hit due to evacuations, lake and trail closures, and air quality concerns.

KURT WILSON, Missoulian

The federal government is chipping in to help small businesses in towns such as Seeley Lake recover from the devastating forest fires of 2017.

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) said this week it’s making low-interest federal disaster loans available in Missoula County and seven others in western Montana, as well as two counties in Idaho.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock requested the loans on Dec. 7, according to an SBA release.

Eligibility is based not on property damage but on financial impact of the fires, which burned hundreds of thousands of acres in the western woods.

Seeley Lake, a small resort town that relies on summer tourist trade, was perhaps most affected as the 160,000-acre Rice Ridge fire raged just outside of town, closing businesses, trails, roads and the lake it sits on and choking the area with dangerous smoke.

Tanya Garfield, director of SBA’s disaster field operations center in the West, said small nonfarm businesses, small agricultural cooperatives, small businesses engaged in aquaculture, and most private nonprofit organizations may qualify for Economic Injury Disaster Loans of up to $2 million.

The loans have an interest rate of 3.305 percent for small businesses and 2.5 percent for private nonprofits, with terms of up to 30 years. They’re restricted to small businesses without the ability to offset the adverse financial impact of the fires without hardship.

The deadline to apply for economic injury is Sept. 11, 2018. Search “disaster loan SBA” for the application and more information, or contact SBA’s customer service center at 800-659-2955 or

Meanwhile, a state advertising campaign called “Sled the Burn” is touting new access to thousands of acres of snowmobile terrain in the Blackfoot Valley burned by the summer fires.

“We’re making lemonade out of lemons here,” Racene Friede said in a news release. “Much of the forested land that was burned in the wildfires this past summer in the Seeley, Lincoln and Ovando areas are now prime snowmobiling terrain.”

Friede, executive director of Glacier Country Tourism, said many areas were too densely forested for safe sledding, but they're ideal now. Two snowmobiling trail systems in Lincoln and Seeley connect, creating more than 500 miles of groomed trails.

Glacier Country Tourism and Southwest Montana pooled money from three grants from the Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development through its emergency community marketing grant program. The state tourism agencies will leverage the grants and their related marketing resources to create the “Sled the Burn” campaign, which targets nonresidents of the three communities.

Specifically, it’s directed at Montana markets within drivable distances, as well as in Canada, Idaho, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Washington and Oregon.

Campaign materials include a video clip that uses some of Glacier Country Tourism’s footage acquired through its partnership with Warren Miller Entertainment’s most recent films “Here, There and Everywhere” and “Line of Descent.” Both were filmed in Seeley Lake in the past two years.

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Mineral County, Veterans Issues Reporter

Outlying communities, transportation, history and general assignment reporter at the Missoulian