Keeping the Lights on at Moss Mountain Inn

Through two federal renewable energy grants, the small North Fork lodge is looking ahead to year-round business and a more sustainable future

By Denali Sagner
Moss Mountain Inn in the North Fork on Sept. 8, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

About 10 miles up the North Fork Road, just beyond the turnoff to the Blankenship Bridge, Moss Mountain Inn sits tucked behind a wall of larches and fir trees, only a stones throw away from the North Fork of the Flathead River. Marguerite Kaminski, the sole owner of the small mountain lodge, wears a lot of hats on the property, tending to its garden, caring for the three cats and one dog that call it home, and greeting guests who come from near and far to find a bit of tranquility outside of Glacier National Park. While she never thought she’d become the owner of an inn — Kaminski is a lawyer by trade — she loves the slightly off-the-beaten-path vacation lodge and the revolving door of characters who stay there.

“It’s such a beautiful spot,” she said, standing in the shaded lawn between her house and the inn.

Though Moss Mountain Inn is one of many small vacation lodges that dot the landscape of Northwest Montana, investments by Kaminski and grants from the federal government have allowed the lodge owner to chart a unique course for her property and build a more sustainable future.

Moss Mountain Inn last month became one of 35 sites in Montana selected to receive a federal grant from the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), which helps farmers, ranchers and rural small businesses install renewable energy infrastructure and improve energy efficiency. Montana received nearly $1.4 million in renewable energy investment funds through REAP, due in part to boosts to the program that were included in the Inflation Reduction Act, which President Joe Biden signed into law last August.

The $5,419 grant administered to Moss Mountain Inn last month will go towards installing energy efficient blinds throughout the lodge’s glass sunroom, which will keep heat in during the winter and out during the summer, reducing the need to run heating and cooling systems. The project is expected to generate more than 55,000 BTU in energy savings and return an annual cost savings of more than $2,300.

The most recent grant is Moss Mountain Inn’s second REAP grant, the first of which gave the lodge $22,372 this past winter to install a 30-kilowatt solar panel system. The solar energy system projected annual energy cost savings of more than $10,000 and is set to produce more than 26,000 kilowatts in electrical power — approximately 63% of the inn’s annual electrical consumption.

The solarium at Moss Mountain Inn in the North Fork on Sept. 8, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

“When I started getting $600 bills for this building in the winter, I said, ‘Oh my God. That’s a lot,’” Kaminski said, discussing the growing costs of heating both the inn and her adjacent home.  “I did it to reduce utility bills, and it has, substantially. We gather a lot [of sunlight] in the summer. In the winter you gather hardly anything. So we take that summer massive amount that we get, and we have a credit with Flathead Electric, and every month instead of having a bill, the credit pays off the bill.”

The $22,372 REAP grant covered about a quarter of the total solar project costs, the rest of which came out of Kaminski’s pocket. While the inn owner knows the project will take some time to start paying for itself, she sees it as a long term investment in the lodge, which she keeps open year-round.

“It’ll take a long time to pay off. Most people wouldn’t make that decision, I don’t think,” Kaminski said. “I just think it’s great to use the sun if you can.”

Marguerite Kaminski, owner of Moss Mountain Inn in the North Fork on Sept. 8, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

For Kaminski, who has owned Moss Mountain Inn for the past three years, making the property more energy efficient will help her keep the lights on during the off-season. While most tourist destinations up the North Fork close during the winter, Kaminski said it’s an underappreciated season in the remote part of the valley.

“Over here, you can cross country skiing. You can snowshoe. You can go down to the river. You can go up to Polebridge and ski. You can go do all sorts of stuff here in the winter,” she said.

As early fall sets in and the sunshine that powers Kaminski’s business begins to fade, she’s looking ahead to a future fueled by the new investments. Though the tourism economy in and around Glacier National Park will begin to slow, Kaminski’s doors will remain open, welcoming in locals and tourists alike looking to bask in the quiet that the North Fork brings.

“It’s the people,” she said. “To see that they like it and find it so refreshing to come here is nice.”

A solar array at Moss Mountain Inn in the North Fork on Sept. 8, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Kaminski’s last name as Kaminsky.

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