Twenty years ago, Nordic skiing in Seeley Lake underwent serious refinements at the hands of former Olympian Jon Elliott. The Polebridge native—under contract with the U.S. Forest Service—helped to widen trails, modify skiing loops and pave the way for more extensive trail grooming, making the Seeley Creek area a more user-friendly destination for winter recreationists.
Seeley Lake finds itself once again turning to the expertise of an ex-Olympian to increase its cross-country skiing opportunities. The Seeley Lake Nordic Steering Committee announced last week it has hired John Morton of Vermont-based Morton Trails to conduct a feasibility study for its proposed Nordic Event Center and Training Facility. And in Morton's professional opinion, the Seeley-Swan Valley boasts considerable potential.
"There's a wonderful starting place already," says Morton, who visited Seeley Lake in January. "Wonderful terrain in the vicinity, great snow. Seems like there's terrific cooperation from the Forest Service and a core group of people in the town who are enthusiastic and motivated to create this vision for Seeley Lake as a real Nordic destination."
The steering committee—which received a $15,000 grant from the Missoula Area Economic Development Corporation to help fund the study—hailed Morton's involvement as a significant step toward the realization of its goals. Committee member Addrien Marx says Seeley Lake hopes to draw national and even international athletes to train and compete here in Montana.
"There are many Nordic centers across the country," Marx says, "but this puts us on a level of national importance."
Marx expects Morton Trails to finish the feasibility study by mid March.
Morton's business partner, David Lindahl, cautions that when all is said and done, Seeley Lake might not prove a good fit for a high-profile facility. Such a plan would call for significant changes in and around the town, including a more pedestrian-friendly main street and additional ski trails that could be connected or interwoven. But there is a recent precedent for Morton Trails and its Olympic touch putting rural towns on the Nordic map.
"Two of our projects [in northern Maine] just hosted...two World Cup biathlons that were watched by over 100 million television spectators in Europe," Lindahl says. "It's like the Super Bowl of sports for Europe, and it was held in these tiny little places up in northern Maine that are far more remote from a major center than Seeley Lake."