The sweeping, treeless slopes feeding off a hillside west of Lolo have become a powerful testament over the years to one man's dreamor, alternatively, to the dangers of putting the cart before the horse. Would-be ski area developer Tom Maclay has fought an endless battle to establish the grandiose Bitterroot Resort.
The U.S. Forest Service turned down his requests for a special use permit four times since 2004. Last year, MetLife subsidiary MLIC Asset Holdings bid $22.5 million for Maclay's 3,000-acre family ranch at a foreclosure auction, and the property was officially signed over to the company in February after Maclay failed to raise the funds to buy it back.
If that series of events has dampened Maclay's spirits, it apparently hasn't broken them. On May 24, the Forest Service received a proposal for a ski resort to be built entirely on the Bitterroot National Forest. The applicantSpecial Use Permit for Public Resort Benefits, LLCrequested that the document remain sealed. Details of the plan are subsequently scant, but the Montana Secretary of State's website lists Maclay as the company's registered agent.
Stevensville District Ranger Dan Ritter, with the Bitterroot National Forest, says the proposal didn't come as a big surprise. And the only real difference this time is the exclusion of any private land component. SUPPRB's request will go through the same screening process as Maclay's four previous applications for a special use permit.
With that in mind, it's difficult to imagine what new traction Maclay hopes to gain this time around. When the Forest Service denied Maclay's last proposal in late 2012, it cited concerns that the planned ski lifts and runs were "incompatible with both the recreation and visual quality standards for this management area." The fact that the Bitterroot Resort didn't mesh with the Bitterroot National Forest plan led the agency to conclude that "it would not be prudent to change management area direction within this area without a Forest-wide comprehensive analysis, and public involvement process." That forest plan revision isn't scheduled to start until 2016.
Whether SUPPRB has massaged the new plan to address those issues will remain a mystery until the document becomes public. But it's clear that Maclay's vision for the Bitterroot Resort is a dream that won't die quietly. If or when it does, the runs already cut above the valley floor will likely remain as a symbol of tenacity for some, of stubbornness for others.