Glacier National Park looks at leasing historic cabins on Lake McDonald

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The main cabin at the Burton K. Wheeler property on Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park. Photo by Richard Hanners

Imagine living in a historic cabin on Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park.

That vision could become a reality as Glacier officials last week released an environmental assessment that would allow the public to lease properties along the lake, provided they agree to fix them up and maintain them to historic standards.

All told, the Park has identified seven properties that could be included in the program, including Kelly’s Camp, the Wheeler Camp, Greve’s Tourist Camp, the Grisley Property, the Moberly Property, and the Fox Henderson Property.

Some properties have more than one cabin and most of the properties are either eligible or are already listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

All of the properties, at one time or another, were privately owned and, over the years, the Park Service has acquired them.

The Park came up with the idea of long-term leases on the properties as a way to preserve them and their historic character a few years ago. The document released last week formalizes the process.

Glacier notes it doesn’t have the funds to maintain or repair the properties, and thus isn’t able to enroll them into a rental program like the Forest Service does with several of its cabins and lookouts, noted Park compliance official Mary Riddle.

It already has a $27 million maintenance backlog, the cabins notwithstanding. Lessees would be responsible for repairs, rehabilitation and utility improvements as well as ongoing cyclic maintenance needs. Though in some cases, depending on funding, the Park undertake some repairs and improvements prior to leasing.

Lessees would also be required to develop a vegetation management plan, including restoration of native plants and control of weeds.

Under the plan, the properties could not be sublet, however. No vacation rentals, though three properties — The Moberly, Fox Henderson and Grisley properties would be available to an interested concessioner if a lease is not in place in the time frame set by the Park.

The Park is looking to have the properties leased within a year to 24 months of putting them on the market. It doesn’t give a cost estimate as to rehabilitation of each property, or what the actual lease fee would be. Riddle said the next step after the EA is completed is to do an appraisal of each property. That would give them a better idea of the costs. But right now, the Park doesn’t even have funding for the appraisals.

She noted, however, that costs would likely be significant. Most of the structures need sewer and water hookups, and structural work. Even so, there’s already interest in the properties.

Marc Ducharme, general manager of the Glacier division of Xanterra Parks and Resorts said the company would be interested in the lease program. The company already runs the historic lodges in the Park and the Red Bus tours under a long-term contract with the Park Service.

“We’d always be interested in growing the operation in the contract,” he said.

Perhaps the most well-known structure is the Wheeler Cabin at the head of Lake McDonald. The cabin, as well as several outbuildings, is located on an idyllic plot of land that used to be the summer home of former Montana Sen. Burton K. Wheeler.

The Park is looking to a non-profit like Glacier National Park Conservancy to lease and restore that structure.

Some work has already been done on the cabin and it’s a coveted spot for retreats. The Moberly Cabin, located at the foot of the lake is also a distinctive property, with a deck that overlooks the water and the mountains.

One cabin, the Johnson-Graham Cabin at the foot of the lake, is slated for removal — the building is such bad shape, it can’t be fixed, the Park notes.

People can comment on the EA online at https://parkplanning.nps.gov/projectHome.cfm?projectID=32548 or mail or hand deliver comments to: Superintendent, Attn: Lake McDonald Properties EA, Glacier National Park, P.O. Box 128, West Glacier, MT, 59936.

The direct link to the EA is at: https://parkplanning.nps.gov/document.cfm?parkID=61&projectID=32548&documentID=85121

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