“There’s no ski hill, there’s no ski lift, there’s no snowmobiling, there’s no helicopters, there’s no helicopter skiing. Those things will never be part of our plan.”– Stacey Hutchinson, POWDR’s Vice President of Communications.
While POWDR isn’t a household name like Vail Resorts or Alterra, they own famous many ski resorts across North America. Some of these include Snowbird, Killington, Copper Mountain, Eldora, and Lee Canyon. With experience in lodging at these ski resorts, they are aiming to expand a remote historic lodge in Montana.
The Holland Lake Lodge first opened in 1924, with the main lodge opening in 1947 following a fire to the old lodge. The lodge currently only uses three of the ten and a half acres that they have under their special use permit from the U.S. Forest Service. POWDR, which is partnering with current owner Christian Wohlfeil, wants to build thirty-two new buildings and expand the special use permit to nineteen acres.
These new facilities would include twenty-six cabins, a twenty-eight-room lodge, a restaurant, a welcome center, employee housing, and more. They are also planning on removing some of the older buildings. While they are aiming to make it a year-round destination, they do not plan on building a ski resort or adding motorized recreation. POWDR and the current owner of the lodge say that the planned expansion is to keep it economically sustainable.
Two Tuesdays ago, a public meeting was held between locals, the current owners of the hotel, Flathead National Forest officials, and POWDR’s leadership team. According to the Missoulian, they got grilled by over one hundred members of the general public. Some of their concerns are the potential environmental damages, an increase in waste and garbage, how the development would alter the rustic nature of the lake, how the new lodge wouldn’t be affordable to the average Montana resident, and that the public has been left out of the process so far. For example, the plans were made public on September 6th, with comments originally only being accepted until September 21st. The U.S. Forest Service later moved this date to October 7th.
In their defense, POWDR and Christian Wohlfeil owned up to their errors during the process at the meeting. POWDR admitted that they didn’t engage with the community enough during the early stages of developing the plans. Christian admitted to making a mistake in addressing the amount of acreage they currently have under the special use permit. They initially believed that they now operate on fifteen acres, but it turns out it’s only around ten and a half. Add in the wastewater facility that POWDR plans to take over with the development, the new special use permit would be around nineteen acres. Both parties denied that they were being secretive with this process, as they said being present at the meeting meant that they’re listening to the concerns of their opponents.
Public comments were accepted up until October 7th, and there were over 6500 submissions. A new group has also been created by opponents of the project. Called Save Holland Lake, their Facebook page has over one thousand followers. Travis Cole, who is the co-creator of the Facebook page, said the following about the proposed plans:
“I cannot figure out how they think that tripling the size of a resort and operating it year-round won’t be a massive impact, and I can’t understand why more attention isn’t being paid to the uniqueness of the environment and the endangered species that habitat it and live there, I can’t understand why that is being overlooked.”
Another public comment process is expected, as the U.S. Forest Service wants to make environmental analysis available before the next round of submissions. Kurt Steele, who is the Flathead National Forest Supervisor, said the following in an interview with KRTV 3:
“Once we’ve done the analysis and have a little bit more information that we’re able to give the public, because we’re getting a lot of questions about that, so I think having another public involvement process once we get our full analysis done or at least partially done and have a draft out for folks, I think would be beneficial for us to move forward with.”
I feel like I’m somewhere in the middle of this divisive debate. I think that the Holland Lake Lodge should be able to expand, as their permit does allow for growth. Additionally, a historic destination like this needs to be financially sustainable to survive in order for future generations to experience it, so adding some additional bed capacity will help.
On the other hand, I feel that their master development plan is a bit excessive, as they’re adding a lot of buildings to a place that’s currently quaint. In my opinion, both sides should compromise. You can read POWDR’s Master Development Plan here.