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Controversy surrounds Holland Lake Lodge expansion proposal

Holland Lake Lodge
Holland Lake.jpg
Holland Lake Lodge
Holland Lake Lodge Expansion Plan Rendering
Posted at 8:33 AM, Sep 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-28 11:06:48-04

HOLLAND LAKE - Holland Lake Lodge has been in operation on the shores of Holland Lake located at the base of the Swan Mountain Range on Flathead National Forest land since 1925.

The lodge is open from Memorial Day through late September each year with nine guest rooms in the main lodge and six adjacent lakeside cabins. Public comment through the US Forest service is currently open on a proposed expansion project for the lodge that would nearly triple the existing footprint.

The current owner of the lodge says expansion and upgrades are needed to keep the lodge a viable, sustainable business for visitors to enjoy for generations to come.

Holland Lake Lodge
Holland Lake Lodge has been operating since 1925.

But those opposing the expansion project say potential environmental impacts and a lack of transparency from the forest service are drawing serious concerns.

“A lot of people say this is the most beautiful place they have ever seen,” said Holland Lake Lodge owner Christian Wohlfeil.

Tucked away in the Flathead National Forest, Holland Lake Lodge offers stunning views of the Swan, and Mission Mountain ranges.

“You know I tease people that you can’t tell this is here from the highway or even our driveway, you have to come out to the lake shore to see the views,” said Wohlfeil.

Wohlfeil has owned and operated the lodge for 21 years, which he says is the longest tenure for a single owner in the lodge’s existence.

Holland Lake.jpg
Holland Lake

“So, I came for a summer job when I was 21 and then never left, ended up managing it and then I bought it from the people I worked for in 2002,” added Wohlfeil.

He runs the privately owned for-profit business on 15 acres under a special use permit from the Flathead National Forest.

“The special use permit with the lodge that’s been going since 1924 is 15 acres, we use under three acres of that right now,” added Wohlfeil.

Wohlfeil has partnered with POWDR — an adventure lifestyle company out of Park City, Utah, that owns 11 ski resorts across the nation — to expand the lodge under the existing 15-acre special use permit.

“We’re not putting a ski resort at Holland Lake, at all, there will be no lift, there is no ski resort, there is no downhill mountain, like that is not happening," said POWDR Vice President of Communications Stacey Hutchinson.

Hutchinson said what has been proposed is an expansion to a new 28-room lodge, 10 two-bedroom cabins and 16 studio cabins, while the historic lodge would remain in place.

Holland Lake Lodge2
The expansion plan calls for an room lodge, 10 two-bedroom cabins and 16 studio cabins, while the historic Holland Lake Lodge would remain in place.

“Our heart is really in this to invest in the area with the same care that Christian has given it for the last 20 years, this spot is something that the community is obviously very proud of, they obviously feel very strongly about it, and we want to be an extension of that to preserve its legacy,” said Hutchinson.

POWDR submitted its Master Development plan to the US Forest Service in April, with the Flathead National Forest announcing the plan and opening public comment for the project on September 1.

“So right now, we have about 5,000 comments that have been received, we still have some time left on the comment period and we anticipate some more in the next week or so,” said Flathead National Forest Supervisor Kurt Steele.

Steele extended the public comment period through Oct. 7, after hearing concerns from citizens that they didn’t have enough time to digest and respond to the proposed plan.

Watch: POWDR Vice President of Communications Stacey Hutchinson discusses the proposed expansion.

WEB EXTRA: POWDR Vice President of Communications Stacey Hutchinson discusses the expansion of Holland Lake Lodge.

“So, we thought a two-week extension would give some more time to get out in the public and allow more folks to weigh in on this project,” added Steele.

Concerned citizen Travis Cole co-created the Save Holland Lake Facebook Page, a group with more than 2,000 members voicing concerns about the proposed expansion.

“It’s one of those iconic Montana places that I refuse to lose to development because it is so special,” said Cole.

Cole said citizens are concerned about environmental impacts from the expansion.

“I cannot figure out how they think that tripling the size of a resort and operating it year-round won’t be a massive impact, and I can’t understand why more attention isn’t being paid to the uniqueness of the environment and the endangered species that habitat it and live there, I can’t understand why that is being overlooked,” said Cole.

Watch - Travis Cole discusses his memories of the lodge and his concerns about the proposed project.

WEB EXTRA: Travis Cole discusses concerns over the expansion of Holland Lake Lodge

Steele said the Flathead National Forest is taking environmental concerns seriously and would like to open a second public involvement process after more environmental analysis is finished.

“Once we’ve done the analysis and have a little bit more information that we’re able to give the public, because we’re getting a lot of questions about that, so I think having another public involvement process once we get our full analysis done or at least partially done and have a draft out for folks, I think would be beneficial for us to move forward with,” said Steele.

Wohlfeil said the current infrastructure of the historic lodge and existing cabins is deteriorating and becoming a safety hazard for guests. He believes POWDR’s proposed expansion is necessary for the lodge to remain serviceable for visitors for generations to come.

Holland Lake Lodge Expansion Plan Rendering
A rendering of the plans to expand Holland Lake Lodge.

“They believe in sustainability, conservation, they have really neat plans for this place to make it a viable business in the next 50 to 100 years,” said Wohlfeil.

Steele said a final decision on the project won’t be made until late winter or early spring of next year.

“I think the positive thing is people care and so do we, and we want to see what’s right for the American people on this project,” said Steele.

A public meeting about the proposed expansion is set for 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 4, at Seeley Lake Middle School. Information on the Save Holland Lake page can be found here. Information from POWDR's Holland Lake Future page can be found here.