Bitterroot Resort Submits New Plan

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SAM Magazine-Missoula, Mont., April 25, 2006-Rancher and would-be resort developer Tom Maclay last week resubmitted a special-use permit application for a scaled-down resort on National Forest land adjacent to his 3,000-acre property in the Bitterroot Valley.

Maclay seeks to develop 1,780 acres in the Bitterroot National Forest for skiing and riding on Lolo Peak. Last year, the Forest Service rejected his proposal for a resort sprawling across 11,000 acres of the Bitterroot and Lolo National Forests, saying the plan was incompatible with its forest management plan (which is scheduled for revision).

While his revised plan avoids some especially sensitive environmental areas, a small part of the proposed development is on land intended for "semi-primitive recreation," which would preclude cutting trees or installing lifts. The Maclay team hopes it can convince the Forest Service to alter its forest management plan, as it has for other resorts in Idaho and Montana, to accommodate their resort.

Maclay's vision still calls for a winter resort with 5,000 vertical feet of skiing and riding and a base development with 2,200 residences and hotel rooms. Other proposed recreational opportunities include ice skating, mountain biking and golf.

Maclay's relationship with the Forest Service has been rocky. Last January, after rejecting Maclay's first resort proposal, the agency sued him, claiming he had cut 400 trees on a right of way Maclay holds on the Bitterroot forest. In a response filed in court last week, Maclay said his activities fell within the scope of easements or other rights of way, arguing that the road in question has been used by his family since the late 1800s, long before the national forest system was established. However, the Forest Service aims to prevent the reopening of closed or abandoned roads by forbidding the cutting of trees that now obstruct the roads.