Bitterroot Resort has requested a special use permit for creating alpine skiing, Nordic skiing and summer mountain bike areas on 1,680 acres in the Bitterroot and Lolo National Forests adjacent to developer Tom Maclay’s ranch. The proposal was announced by the resort in a press release Tuesday evening and confirmed by the Bitterroot National Forest today. The request is a revision of an earlier proposal that was denied by the Forest Service because it was not allowable under the forest plan. A new forest plan is in the works and is expected to be released soon.
Dixie Dies, spokesperson for the Bitterroot National Forest, said the new request is very similar to one submitted in 2005 and will go through the same screening process to determine its congruency with Forest Service policies.
“We’re starting all over like it’s the first proposal they’ve ever given us,” Dies said.
One major difference she noted in the new proposal is that alpine ski development would be limited to the Bitterroot National Forest. The Bitterroot Forest land referred to in the request is designated semi-primitive, Dies said, which allows motorized use but no visible signs of recreation or structures. The resort’s proposal includes two temporary “warming huts” but no permanent bathrooms or other facilities.
Bitterroot Resort chief operating officer Jim Gill said that this request is a continuation of their plan to create a destination resort in the Bitterroot Valley.
“Recent conversations we’ve had with the Forest Service gave us the impression that if we submitted the present application it could be accepted under the current forest plan,” Gill said. “We’re anxious to get started.”
Gill said that when the new forest plan comes out, the resort will reapply for use of areas around Carlton Ridge and Lolo Peak. In 2005, Bitterroot Resort requested a use of over 10,000 acres of public lands. By comparison, Montana’s Snowbowl ski resort in Montana takes up around 1,000 acres.
“It’s good that the public knows that this is an incremental step in their plan to eventually get access to Lolo Peak and the surrounding wild land,” said Bob Clark of the Sierra Club’s Missoula chapter. The Sierra Club has collected 2,600 signatures for a petition to protect the Lolo Peak area from development; 2,100 signatures were from Missoula and the Bitterroot Valley.
The federal government lodged a complaint against Maclay in January for allegedly cutting trees on Forest Service property near his ranch. Dies could not say whether litigation would have an impact on the new proposal and whether those issues would be addressed if the request passed the screening process and entered the application stage.
“We are treating it as two separate issues,” Dies said.