fbpx
Montana

Holland Lake Lodge for Sale; POWDR Said Decision ‘Strategic’

Lodge owner said he received death threats; resort listed at $3.5 million

By KEILA SZPALLER, Daily Montanan
Puddles on top of a frozen Holland Lake near Condon on Dec. 26, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Holland Lake Lodge is back on the market — for $3.5 million.

Holland Lake Lodge majority owner Christian Wohlfeil announced in a news release Friday that he is relisting the lakeside resort in the Swan Valley. He is seeking offers through Jan. 28, 2024.

Holland Lake Lodge operates on the Flathead National Forest with a special-use permit.

A minority shareholder, Utah-based POWDR, did not respond to questions about its interest in the future of the property, but a spokesperson directed the Daily Montana to an update on its website late Monday afternoon.

In the statement, POWDR said its interest is in preserving public land by making it accessible. A POWDR subsidiary had submitted a permit application to the U.S. Forest Service, but POWDR said Monday it would withdraw.

“Our decision to withdraw the permit application, and entertain new offers for investment, is a strategic one,” POWDR said. “We remain deeply committed to our mission of inspiring every human being with cool experiences in awesome places.”

Wohlfeil said the parties are jointly selling the lodge. He said the sale includes the liquor license, which state records show is controlled by POWDR CEO Justin Sibley.

Wohlfeil said he is not going to sell to POWDR; rather, he said the partners are looking for a different buyer.

“I’d like someone else to be the innkeeper, be the steward,” Wohlfeil said in a phone interview Monday. “I’ve done 24-plus years being the steward of Holland Lake Lodge. That’s been incredible, but I’m ready for someone else to take the reins.”

He said he has more than 12 prospective buyers who have signed non-disclosure agreements, and “time is of the essence” because of the seasonal nature of the lodge, which runs from May through October.

Last September, the U.S. Forest Service announced a controversial proposal to expand the lodge, a plan it later rejected after public outcry. The outcry came in part because the agency provided inaccurate information to the public.

At the time, Wohlfeil said he had sold minority shares to “adventure lifestyle” company POWDR in a bid to responsibly develop the resort. He has managed the lodge for roughly 20 years.

However, prior to the proposal becoming public, POWDR informed the Forest Service in October 2021 that it was managing the lodge following completion of the first phase of a sale, according to documents a couple of Hamilton lawyers earlier received from a public records request.

In part of the statement on its website, POWDR said the lodge “has been a cherished part of the POWDR portfolio for several years.”

“We will continue to work closely with Christian during the next phase of this process,” POWDR said. “It is our sincere hope that a buyer will emerge with a desire to continue the history of the lodge in a sustainable way that meets the challenges of Montana’s continued growth, while still offering affordable accommodations to guests.

“We firmly believe that success will come from intentional growth and are supportive of the state’s plans for thoughtful, sustained economic development.”

Monday, Wohlfeil said the partners are updating agreements to amend the management structure, separate from the ownership shares. He said he owns 80% of the shares and POWDR owns 20%.

“We’re working on that as we speak,” Wohlfeil said of the agreements about management.

Wohlfeil said the partners are no longer seeking any permits from the Forest Service.

“There will no longer be a proposed partnership with the Utah-based POWDR, and we will be withdrawing all pending applications to the USFS,” Wohlfeil said in a statement.

In its statement, POWDR also said it informed the Forest Service that it does not intend to continue to manage Holland Lake Lodge, Inc.

The resort operates on Holland Lake in an area with protected species such as grizzly bears, lynx and bull trout.

Monday, the Forest Service confirmed Holland Lake Lodge Inc., informed the agency it was no longer working in partnership with POWDR and would withdraw applications.

The Forest Service said it had not yet received paperwork on the withdrawal of a permit application by POWDR subsidiary E3 Destinations, a submission earlier reported by Missoula Current.

POWDR did not respond to a question about when it planned to submit the paperwork.

In the news release, Wohlfeil said he announced to conservation leaders and lodge guests on Oct. 10 the luxury resort was closing for the winter season and the business would be back on the market.

The original proposal drew opposition, in part because the Flathead National Forest had been working with POWDR privately. The agency received word of the proposed sale in December 2020, well before it announced the expansion proposal to the public in September 2022.

Wohlfeil said opposition included death threats and “vitriol” against him on social media.

He also said the outcry contains an element of hypocrisy given that other private companies operate on public lands and don’t receive the same criticisms, such as Xanterra in Glacier National Park.

“It’s not right,” Wohlfeil said “I have the right to sell it. I have the right to sell it for whatever amount of money I want.”

He also said people mistakenly accuse him of trying to sell off public land, which he cannot do; the lodge operates on public land with a permit, and Wohlfeil said the permit is part of the sale of the business.

“While we were sold out each night, sadly, my family, our staff, and our guests were subject to a deliberate campaign of wild misinformation,” Wohlfeil said in the news release about the most recent season. “The irresponsibility manifested in anonymous threats, destruction of the lodge, and even death threats.”

He also said he believes the campaign against expansion has quieted some voices. After one heated meeting, he said he received 150 phone calls from people who live in the valley and said they support him but were scared to be open about it.

Save Holland Lake has driven the campaign against the proposal. It has asked the Forest Service to be transparent with the public about expansion plans and adequately consider impacts to wildlife and other natural resources.

“As the community of Condon said, as Montanans said, and the American public overwhelmingly said, Holland Lake is our public land and simply not the place for a giant destination resort,” said Bill Lombardi, with Save Holland Lake, in a statement. “We hope the Forest Service learns and listens and doesn’t commercialize our public lands.”

Wohlfeil has said he has wanted to sell to an entity that has the resources to make needed improvements to the resort with a sustainable approach. He said Monday he is still looking for a buyer that shares his ethic of sustainability.

If a sale isn’t finalized by Memorial Day 2024, Wohlfeil said the lodge will resume operations “in honor of its 100-year anniversary.” It will hold a weekend concert series and expanded day-use amenities, including the bar, gift shop and restaurant.

This story originally appeared in the The Daily Montanan, which can be found online at dailymontanan.com.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.