LAKE MCDONALD – On a cold autumn afternoon, the Glacier Park Inc. family came together for one final gathering at the Lake McDonald Lodge. The annual closing ceremony on Sept. 29 has always been a chance to look back on the season and thank those who welcomed thousands of people to the century-old lodge.
But this year’s tone was much more somber. Six weeks earlier, on Aug. 13, the National Park Service announced that it had selected Xanterra Parks and Resorts as the new concessioner for Glacier National Park, ending a 32-year relationship with GPI.
“This year we close not just the hotels, but an era,” wrote GPI President Cindy Ognjanov in a letter read during the closing ceremony.
In recent weeks, GPI has laid off employees as it readjusts for a future without its namesake park. According to Vice President and General Manager Ron Cadrette layoffs have occurred at all levels of the company, but he declined to say exactly how many people have been let go.
“During the past two weeks, we have been right sizing GPI so we’re in a position to be successful in 2014,” Cadrette said. “This has been a record year for us and we hope for the same next year.”
Employees of the hospitality company that has operated Glacier’s lodges, bus tours, restaurants and gift shops for more than three decades were “shocked” when news first broke that GPI had lost the contract. Although GPI was established in 1981, the roots of the company go back to Glacier’s earliest days. GPI held a 25-year concessions contract until 2006, when it began operating under annual extensions. Late last year, NPS began seeking bids for a 16-year concessions contract. The new contract requires the concessioner pay the federal government a minimum franchise fee of 1 percent of gross receipts, which average about $18.5 million.
All of the bids were due on April 16, 2013. NPS and a panel of experts outside of Glacier National Park analyzed the bids and eventually selected Xanterra’s. Based in Colorado, Xanterra operates concessions across the west at parks like the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone.
Cadrette said the concessions contract made up nearly half of GPI’s business and that the company had been focused on winning the bid and not what it would do if it lost it.
Cadrette, who will become president of GPI on Dec. 31 when Ognjanov retires, says he is optimistic about the company’s future. GPI still owns the Glacier Park Lodge in East Glacier Park, the Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton Lakes National Park, the Grouse Mountain Lodge in Whitefish, the St. Mary Lodge and the Lake McDonald Motor Inn (which is located near the historic lodge). He says the company plans on expanding its holdings in the outlying communities in the coming years.
“I feel very optimistic about GPI’s future,” he said. “As one door closes, another one opens and that’s exactly what is happening as we enter 2014.”
All of the lodges inside Glacier National Park have been closed for the season and GPI employees are currently winterizing facilities. Even though the park is closed due to the government shutdown, GPI workers are still able to go inside and work.
The shutdown did derail the company’s plans to operate Red Bus tours on the west side of the Going-to-the-Sun Road this month and Cadrette said the buses are now being stored. Xanterra will take over on Jan. 1, 2014.
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