Forest Service Turns Back Holland Lake Proposal, For Now

Proposed expansion of the lodge near Condon drew ire from locals worried it would change the character of the Swan Valley

By Justin Franz, Montana Free Press
Holland Lake. Photo courtesy USFS

A Utah-based developer is going to have to go back to the drawing board after the Flathead National Forest rejected its initial plan to expand and upgrade the Holland Lake Lodge in Condon. The plan had received significant opposition from locals in the Swan Valley who alleged that the expansion would negatively impact both the community and the environment there. 

In a Nov. 21 letter to the developer, POWDR of Park City, Utah, the Forest Service stated that there were inaccuracies with its Master Development Plan. The letter, first reported by Montana Public Radio, has not been released to the public, but among the issues that had been pointed out by a grassroots group organized against the development, Save Holland Lake, was that the proposal would double the size of the lodge, even though the Forest Service permit allows it to take up only 10.53 acres. 

Tami Mackenzie, the spokesperson for the Flathead National Forest, likened the agency’s decision to a “reset” more than a rejection. 

“If they want to move forward with this then they will need to start from the beginning,” she told Montana Free Press on Wednesday afternoon.

In a statement posted to HollandLakeFuture.com, a website set up by the developer, POWDR officials said they had not given up on their plans.

“Our intention from the beginning of this process was to upgrade the failing infrastructure of Holland Lake Lodge in a sustainable way that would preserve the integrity of the lodge and environment without sacrificing affordability for residents and others seeking to marvel at the grandeur of our natural spaces,” they wrote. “We plan to resubmit our plan for future investment and infrastructure improvements at Holland Lake Lodge that is very much in line with our previously submitted Master Development Plan.”

Proposed Holland Lake Lodge Facility Expansion Site Plan. Courtesy image

That plan called for the demolition of 10 structures and the construction of all new ones, including a 13,000-square-foot building dubbed the “Bob Marshall Lodge” with 28 rooms. The expansion would increase the 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 year-round. 

Stacey Hutchinson, a spokesperson for POWDR, said in October that 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.

Representatives of Save Holland Lake said they were pleased with the news that the Forest Service was rejecting the current master plan as written. But they said even if POWDR fixes those issues with the plan, they are still opposed to any expansion of the Holland Lake Lodge.  

“We remain convinced that the Forest Service has a legal duty to deny the proposed expansion because it is not in the public interest,” the group said. “Our desire is to see that the National Forest lands around Holland Lake remain a refuge for native fish, common loons, wildlife, and quiet, sustainable recreation for current and future generations.”

This story originally appeared in the Montana Free Press, which can be found online at montanafreepress.org.