Keila Szpaller

(Daily Montanan) The U.S. Forest Service reports a 2024 operating plan for Holland Lake Lodge has not been finalized, but it earlier said a 2017 permit issued to the lodge “remains valid.”

Last week, however, a pair of lawyers who have scrutinized public records related to an earlier proposal for the lodge sent a memo to the Forest Service raising questions — again — about the permit, the Daily Montanan reports.

The “special use permit” allows the business to operate on public land.

The Forest Service said Friday it is reviewing the memo and declined to comment further. It also declined to provide a copy of the operating plan.

The lodge landed in the limelight in fall 2022 after longtime owner and manager Christian Wohlfeil teamed up on an expansion plan with a Utah-based “adventure life” company, POWDR, and the Forest Service made the joint venture public.

The Forest Service later rejected the plan after public outcry but said it would consider other proposals.

The lodge operates on the Flathead National Forest with a permit, and public scrutiny revealed problems on many fronts after the Forest Service announced the development plan in September 2022.

Holland Lake is a pristine body of water in the Swan Valley filled by a nearby waterfall, and the lake is also home to a popular campground with 40 sites listed on

Some 18 months after the lodge expansion plan came to light, the Flathead National Forest has a new supervisor and the area has a new nonprofit that aims to advocate for the valley, home to grizzly bears, loons and lynx. New concerns have emerged as well.

“We welcome new Supervisor (Anthony) Botello and look forward to working closely with him to ensure that the public has a voice in determining how our public lands are used and to protect this rural working landscape for future generations,” said Stewards of the Swan Valley President Grace Siloti of Condon in a recent statement.

In a news release about its formation, however, the group flagged one problem — the wastewater treatment system, which is operated by the Forest Service — that affects operations at the campground and the lodge.

Separately, the lawyers from Hamilton who earlier unearthed public records that showed the Forest Service had worked secretly with POWDR months before announcing the plan to the public sent a memo to the agency last week alleging it still isn’t being transparent.

The lawyers, George Corn and Daniel Browder, earlier discovered the Forest Service had worked privately on the business deal and had been told by POWDR before fall 2022 that a sale was in the works, and it was managing the lodge.

State records show POWDR still has a connection to the lodge.

Montana Department of Revenue records show the liquor license is owned by the Holland Lake Lodge Restaurant LLC. Both DOR and Secretary of State records list the LLC’s mailing address as POWDR’s legal address in Utah.

“What leverage does the liquor license give to POWDR via its LLC minion?” said the memo from the lawyers to the forest supervisor. “What other leverage does POWDR retain?”

Wohlfeil, who declined comment Friday, earlier said he wanted to sell the lodge to a company that would carry on his ethic of environmental care, and he believed POWDR was that entity. But the public pushed back.

Members of the public, including Swan Valley residents, had said they feared the project would lead to a greater expansion than appropriate for the forest.

Additionally, errors by the Forest Service, including inaccurate information given to the public, fueled skepticism about whether the agency would properly handle the project. Questions also arose about the legality of the special use permit.

The lawyers had argued, based on the plain language of the permit, that once control of the lodge changed, the permit was void, and the parties needed to apply for a new permit with the Forest Service.

An October 2021 email from POWDR said it was managing the lodge, and POWDR would request a new permit once a sale was complete.

This past fall, POWDR said it would withdraw the new permit application, but last week, the Forest Service said the 2017 permit “remains valid.”

In their memo, however, the lawyers said the Forest Service’s legal process doesn’t make sense and the agency isn’t providing adequate records to the public about how it’s considering the validity of permits.

“The USFS claims that the SUP (special use permit) governing the Lodge’s operation has reverted to the 2017 SUP,” the memo said. “Although we understand the temptation for the USFS to pretend the last few years of obfuscation and collusion never took place and time-travel back to 2017, the USFS has not cited any legal authority or process for its claim …” of the back and forth permit transfers.

“If we are missing some legal authority that exists but was not cited, please let us and the public know.”

Stewards of the Swan Valley recently raised a different problem at the lake, a wastewater treatment system that is “not operable,” they said, citing the Forest Service. Controlled by the Forest Service, the system serves the campsites and the lodge.

The Forest Service earlier said it was identifying options for the lodge and the campground, and last week, it addressed a plan for campers although not a specific plan for the lodge.

“Part of the campground is already serviced by vault toilets which are pumped throughout the season,” said Forest Service spokesperson Kira Powell in an email. “Portable restrooms will be placed in the areas where flushing restrooms are closed.”