Gone Fishin'

HEY!

I'm not actively blogging here anymore. But if you got here because you were searching for something about bikes, you might want to check out my latest project, Vermont Goldsprints. In summer of 2014, I bought a used goldsprints racing setup and have made it a mission to get more bikes in more people's faces by putting on fun races in unexpected places. Come join me!

11.05.2005

Some Naive Observations on Lolo Peak Development

If anybody was wondering what the entire Missoula economic and environmental situation vis a vis the development of Lolo Peak would look like to a newcomer, they are in the right place. Some background is in order: Not far from Missoula and in fact in sight of the city lies Lolo Peak. There is some private land at the base and lower elevations of the area, and above that is land, all the way to the summit, that is managed by the United States Forest Service (USFS). Over the years, the USFS has considered the feasibility of constructing a ski area on and around Lolo Peak, but has always decided against it. In part, this has had to do with a need for snowmaking at lower elevations (and no water rights with which to do so) and a lack of land at the base of the mountain for lodges, parking, etc. Now, along comes a major private landowner who owns the lower elevations of the peak, (in fact, he's already cleared some trails on the land he owns) and has the water rights and flat land that the Forest Service has always been looking for. He proposes a development project on both his and federal land that would result in the construction of a destination ski area with over a mile of vertical drop, tons of real estate, hotels, base lodge, plenty of water to make snow down in the valley, the works. A match made in heaven? Hardly. The current USFS plan for the area (under review right now) specifically excludes ski area development. Here's what the ski area (Bitterroot Resort) proponents have to say, and here's what the "Save Lolo Peak" folks have to say. Look at these sites, read a few editorials in the Missoulian, and you will be about at my level of knowlege of the situation. So, what does a newcomer to Montana and Missoula, a skier and environmentalist, think of all this? As a skier and somebody who has had some trouble finding work in Missoula, I think there are some benefits to having a major resort in town. I reserve the right to change my mind about this at any time. Here's what I see as the major benefits of a destination ski resort so close to Missoula: 1. Jobs. Not just initial jobs, but the jobs this will create for the area after the thing is built. Sure, many of them are low paying. Guess what? Many jobs in Missoula are low paying. Many jobs on Cape Cod were low paying, too. But in my experience, when there are more low paying jobs than there are people willing to take them, those jobs have to pay more to attract decent employees. Barring a population growth rate that matches the increase of jobs created by a resort of this size, employers all over Missoula would have to compete with each other to offer better wages. 2. Unique opportunity. How many places in the country can you step out of a major airport terminal and be slopeside a half hour later? I think Bitterroot could be not just a destination resort, but a hassle-free one at that. 3. A chance to propel Missoula forward. Missoula is a great town, I love it here, and not being from here I suppose I have no right to make the following observation: There is a significant backward force in this place. I see sprawl that has resulted not from evil developers, but from indecision and regressive planning. I see traffic problems caused by the same. By being afraid to be too big or too innovative, Missoula is getting stuck in a quagmire. Bad air, bad traffic, bad development. I'd like to see a commuter rail line running from Bitterroot into downtown and out to the airport. Cripe, the tracks are already there for the most part! No need to build a giant "alpine village" at the base of the resort when you can take a train 5 minutes right into downtown. Right now, there's no good reason to visit Missoula for a ski vacation, and that could change. Tourism, managed properly, does not have to come with traffic, disposable development, and seasonal feast/famine cycles. 4. Finally, I think a major ski resort would complement the existing ski area in Missoula, The Montana Snowbowl. The Snowbowl is a more expert-oriented area that could be a tipping point for a lot of families deciding to plan their vacation in Missoula instead of some other western resort area. I could even foresee a relationship similar to that between Sugarbush and Mad River, areas in Vermont that share a geographic area and, I would argue, have a synergystic affect on the economy in that region. That's all I have for now, excepting an overwhelming sense that Missoula is on the threshold of something great, that is has unique resources found nowhere else in the region, and that if actions are not taken to maximize these resources, there will only be more sprawl, retail ugliness, and unemployment.