Voices from Condon: Holland Lake Lodge proposal meets local opposition
Driving north from Seeley Lake to Condon, the first sign pops up about 6 miles before the turn onto Holland Lake Road.
At first glance, it looks like residents of Condon have united behind the same candidate for office. But the big white signs with blue text that read “‘Hands off Holland” represent a campaign of a different kind.
As a resort company known for its ski hills seeks to expand the 1940s historic Holland Lake Lodge, locals are pushing back.
Condon unrolls along an evergreen-lined stretch of Highway 83 — a strung-out series of homes, two churches, and a bar and diner. The 2020 U.S. Census pinned its population at 285. One of its most striking attributes is actually something it’s missing — noise.
The busiest spot on a recent December day was a gas station and convenience store at the north end of town.
Grace Siloti and her husband own and operate Mission Mountains Mercantile. The two have been in business together for 13 years, and know just about everyone in Condon.
“I’ve hung 98% of the signage down Highway 83,” Siloti said with a laugh.
Siloti says it didn’t take long for requests for copies of the “Hands Off Holland” sign to start pouring in.
The current owner of Holland Lake Lodge has been seeking to sell the property for years, saying it is in bad shape and in need of updates. Many locals were outraged after they learned of Utah-based resort company POWDR’s plan to buy and triple the capacity of the lodge in September — five months after the company submitted the plan to the Forest Service.
Save Holland Lake, an advance group that’s grown out of the community’s frustration, released a press release raising concerns over the Forest Service’s handling of the public process, potential violations of the lodge’s permit to operate on public land, and pushing for a full environmental review of the proposal.
Flathead National Forest Supervisor Kurt Steele issued a letter in November essentially telling POWDR to try again, citing “inaccuracies and inconsistencies” within the company’s proposal.
POWDR said in a statement it intends to submit a new plan that “won’t compromise on scale.”
“Once someone like that has their foot in the door, next year, what will their next proposal be?” Siloti said. “Two years from now, what will their next proposal be?”
Variations of that theme — that the proposed expansion is just too big for Condon — emerge as I continued my trip through town. One resident told me she worries the lodge would harm the quality of the watershed. Another worries a bigger lodge would attract wealthier visitors that could push valley residents out.
A few miles down the road from the mercantile, Shirley and Loyd Hahn live in a log home.
Shirley Hahn says she worries an increase in traffic at the lodge would drive out wildlife.
“Yeah, I just don’t think they’ll stay,” Shirley Hahn said. “They’ll have to move, and where are they going to move? There’s just not much left.”
The Hahns have a long relationship with the lodge — Lloyd would house customers for his outfitting business there, and Shirley says she would kayak with friends and pull up to shore for a drink. She says she doesn’t trust POWDR to change something so important to locals in the area.
“At this point, I wouldn’t trust them to walk my dog,” Hahn said. “I just have no trust there.”
At public meetings and in press interviews, POWDR has reiterated that it wants to build that trust with the community.
POWDR’s vice president of communications Stacey Hutchinson told MTPR the company is listening to feedback from the public before it makes its next proposal. Hutchinson declined to provide specifics, but said many community members have approached POWDR privately to express support for its plans at Holland Lake.
“I had people come up to me after the public meetings I was at in early October and say that they were worried that if they said anything positive in support of our efforts, that their cabin would be burned down,” Hutchinson said. “And that’s a direct quote from a woman in Condon.”
Thousands of people submitted online comments to the Forest Service regarding POWDR’s proposed project, the vast majority of which were against the expansion.
Frequent letters to the editor in newspapers across western Montana show voices in opposition to the project. No one I talked to during my visit to Condon expressed support for POWDR’s plans.
On my way out of town, I made one last stop and visited with a resident who says he’s not at all surprised by the backlash.
Bob Parcell joined the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office as a deputy 40 years ago, and spent 33 of those patrolling along Highway 83. He lives just down the road from Holland Lake at the south end of town.
He says he fears Condon’s all-volunteer emergency services could be overwhelmed by the added strain the larger lodge could produce.
“We have enough people here to make a civilization, but it’s not a city, and nobody wants that here,” Parcell said.
POWDR has said that the expanded lodge will allow the company to open access for more people to enjoy Montana’s outdoor spaces. But, to Parcell, that argument just doesn’t work.
“So, I guess there’s a tradeoff,” Parcell says, “Do you want to destroy what you’re coming to see? Or do you want to come and enjoy what you came to see? That’s the difference.”
POWDR told MTPR a new master development plan will be submitted sometime in 2023. The Forest Service has promised a full environmental review of the new plan, and more opportunities for the public to weigh in.