Katie Gleason has spent almost her whole life in Condon, an unincorporated community of a few hundred in the heart of the Swan Valley, located about 10 miles north of Holland Lake. When she was growing up, Holland Lake was where she went to cool off in the summer. It was safe and easy to access. Now that she's the mother of a 3-year-old and 6-year-old, Gleason takes her kids to the same beach and roped-off swimming area she experienced as a kid.
So when Gleason read in the Seeley Swan Pathfinder back in May that she would soon have to pay to access the beach, she was "instantly upset." According to the paper, she would have to start coughing up a $5 day-use fee every time she wanted to access Holland Lake, starting July 1. Considering the fact Gleason takes her children there multiple times a week, she saw the dollar signs adding up. But for Gleason, the bigger issue has nothing to do with money.
"I feel like the principle of it is wrong," she says. "That's our land as citizens of the United States. It's open, public land, and we pay for it everyday with our tax dollars. And for them to then ask for more money on top of that to go and have access to our public lands is just wrong."
Gleason's outrage quickly spread through the Swan Valley community. At meetings in June and earlier this month, Gleason and others gave officials from the Flathead National Forest and Barta Enterprises, the concessionaire that maintains the Holland Lake campground and beach, an earful. They pleaded, at a minimum, for more time to find an alternate solution.
The strategy seems to have worked—at least temporarily. Barta, which defends the fee as the only way to maintain services at the popular recreation area, has delayed its pay-to-play plan. On Aug. 1, Gleason says she's planning to meet with the company to discuss ideas like community volunteers handling chores such as trash pickup in exchange for free access to the beach. Her goal is to keep public lands, well, public and free.
And if the meeting on Aug. 1 doesn't work? Gleason says she won't return to the place she essentially grew up.
"I won't pay for something that already belongs to the people," she says.
Here's hoping she won't have to.