Plagued with poverty and high unemployment, the Blackfeet Tribe is again considering a plan to build a $10 million destination hotel and resort on the outskirts of Glacier National Park.
The proposed 62-room, three-story hotel, complete with a large conference center, would be constructed on tribal land along Lower St. Mary Lake, just a few miles north of the St. Mary town site, tribal officials say. Already nearby is the Chewing Blackbones Campground, which has luxurious cabins, a marina, and acres of tent and recreational vehicle sites.
Tribal leaders have talked about building a resort in the area for at least 20 years, and several feasibility studies have been completed in years past. Last week, the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council voted to pursue a new grant from the federal Economic Development Administration to look at the proposal again.
“We really want to see what size hotel or resort would be feasible and just how deep the market is,” says Ed Aubert, general manager of Pikuni Industries, a tribally owned construction firm. The company hopes to secure the contract for building the resort, adds marketing director Don Kittson.
Glacier Park hosted nearly 1.7 million visitors last year, and many travelers coming from the east and north cross the Blackfeet Indian Reservation to get there. Recent national surveys show that two national parks—Yellowstone and Yosemite—are among the top three travel destinations in the United States. Also ranking in the top three is Florida’s Disney World.
“Glacier probably ranks right up there, too,” Aubert says, adding that most of the park is barely utilized for three seasons out of the year. “We really can’t ignore the tourism with Glacier right at our doorstep.”
Cultural offerings would be a key draw to a tribal facility, Aubert says, especially since “many people back East think we still live in tipis.” Sun Tours, an East Glacier Park firm run by a tribal member, already offers guided road trips through the park. Other tribal members hire out to give visitors interpretations of the Blackfeet’s colorful history and to show them around the 1.6 million-acre reservation.
Roscoe Black, whose family owns the 126-room St. Mary Lodge and Resort next to the park’s east entrance, says he thinks a tribal facility would be a welcome addition.
“Anything we can do to bring more emphasis to the east side of Glacier will help everyone,” he says. “It’s kind of the forgotten side of the park. The benefits would be very strong for all tribal members. I don’t think it would be a negative to us.”