A proposed expansion of the Holland Lake Lodge near Condon has raised concerns not only about the historic lakeside resort but about the future of the secluded Swan Valley. Those concerns come as the U.S. Forest Service is wrapping up a public comment period about a Utah-based developer’s plan for the lodge and surrounding resort.
While western Montana has experienced a huge spike in development in recent decades — and especially in the last few years in places like Missoula and the Flathead Valley — the quiet valley in the shadow of the Mission Mountains between Seeley Lake and Bigfork has remained relatively unchanged, said Bill Lombardi, a Seeley Lake resident and one of the people behind a grassroots group called Save Holland Lake.
“As this project goes, so goes the valley,” Lombardi said of his belief that expanding the Holland Lake Lodge would lead to more projects elsewhere. “This valley is still the old Montana we love, and this development is the exact opposite of that.”
The development in question is a plan by POWDR, a Utah-based company with ski resorts across the country, to demolish 10 structures at the Holland Lake Lodge and build new ones, including a 13,000-square-foot building dubbed the “Bob Marshall Lodge” with 28 rooms. The expansion would increase capacity at Holland Lake Lodge from 50 guests per night to 156 per night. The developer is working with Christian Wohlfeil, the owner of the special-use permit to run the lodge since 2002. Wohlfeil and POWDR say along with expanding capacity — which will make the operation financially viable — they will also winterize buildings, allowing for the resort to be open during the winter. The wastewater and sewage systems will also be upgraded. It is expected that POWDR will eventually acquire all interest in the special-use permit.
Stacey Hutchinson, a spokesperson for POWDR, said the proposal is more of “an upgrade than an expansion” and that the company is set on not changing the character of the Holland Lake Lodge or the surrounding lake. A resort has been on the shores of Holland Lake since 1924 and the current lodge was built in the late 1940s after the original burned to the ground. Besides the main lodge, there are cabins for rent on site. Hutchinson said that if the U.S. Forest Service approves POWDR’s plans, work would begin in September 2023 and be completed in 2025, which would also be Holland Lake Lodge’s 100th anniversary.
“We love the Holland Land Lodge, and we love it because it is a quiet place,” Hutchinson said. “And that’s something we want to maintain.”
In recent weeks an avalanche of public comments have been sent to the Flathead National Forest’s office in opposition to the plan. A local group called Save Holland Lake has been organizing against the proposal and a Facebook group called “Hands Off Holland Lake!” has gained more than 2,800 members in less than a month.
Many of those comments have focused on the immediate impact a larger development would have on the lake and the wildlife in the area. But it seemed an equally large concern was what other changes might follow if the U.S. Forest Services greenlights this project.
Among those adding their voices to the opposition is Grace Siloti, co-owner of the Mission Mountain Mercantile and a member of the Condon Community Council, which reports to the Missoula County Commission. Like Lombardi, Siloti said she worries that a project like the one POWDR is proposing would open the flood gates to even more development in the valley. She said the last thing people in her area want is to go the way of Whitefish or Big Sky, popular tourism and recreation destinations that have become unaffordable for locals.
“It’s not going to stop with the Holland Lake Lodge,” she said. “More people will follow, and they’ll want a piece of the pie.”
A public hearing about the proposal is planned for Tuesday night at 5:30 p.m. at Seeley Lake Elementary School. Public comment is being accepted until Oct. 6.
In recent weeks, POWDR has engaged in a campaign to convince the public that it doesn’t want to change the character of Holland Lake and the surrounding area, including through letters to the editor in local papers. Hutchinson said the company cared about the environment and vowed to be a good steward of the land and a good neighbor to area residents. Hutchinson added that POWDR has no intentions of adding a ski area or growing beyond its proposed footprint at Holland Lake.
“I understand and appreciate people’s concerns, but I hope people will take the time to learn about us and our values,” Hutchinson said. “We want to be good neighbors.”
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