WEST GLACIER — Most of the business district in this iconic entrance to Glacier National Park — and hundreds of undeveloped acres in and around the little village of about 225 people — have been sold to an Arizona corporation.
Bill Lundgren, whose family has owned the West Glacier Mercantile Co. since 1946, and Paul Dykstra, chairman, president and CEO of Viad Corp. of Phoenix, confirmed the sale Wednesday morning.
“This addition perfectly complements our existing operations in and around Glacier National Park,” Cindy Ognjanov, president of Glacier Park Inc., said in a written release. “The Lundgren family has a remarkable history in West Glacier and we look forward to carrying on their traditions in this historic town. GPI has long served as a steward for the preservation of historical properties, including the 101-year-old Glacier Park Lodge and the 87-year-old Prince of Wales Hotel and our commitment to these treasured places will continue in all aspects of the operation of our company.”
Included in the sale are approximately 200 acres of land in West Glacier which include: the West Glacier Motel & Cabins; the West Glacier Restaurant & Bar; the West Glacier Mercantile; the West Glacier Gift Shop and other guest services. Additionally, the sale includes 3.8 acres of inholding within Glacier National Park in Apgar; the Apgar Village Lodge; the Cedar Tree Gift Shop; and staff housing units in Apgar and West Glacier.
“We are very excited about this opportunity to offer our guests a wider range of accommodation and recreation options and to extend our position as the Gateway to Glacier,” said Ron Cadrette, Glacier Park Inc. vice president and general manager. “We have great respect for what the Lundgren family has built in West Glacier. We will strive as a company to preserve and honor what they have created including their reputation for offering great hospitality to guests and an engaging work environment for staff.”
In addition to the West Glacier and Apgar properties, Glacier Park Inc. owns and operates St. Mary Lodge, Glacier Park Lodge, Motel Lake McDonald, Grouse Mountain Lodge and the Prince of Wales Hotel, which are located in and around Glacier National Park in Montana and Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada. GPI plans to operate the businesses in West Glacier and Apgar with minimal changes for the 2014 season.
What concerns many West Glacier residents is what will become of hundreds of undeveloped acres in and around West Glacier they believe are part of the sale.
“It’s very disturbing, when you think what could happen there,” said West Glacier resident Jim Clarke, a retired University of Arizona professor. “That’s habitat for deer, elk, black bear, the occasional grizzly, and lots of smaller mammals. What are they going to do with that?”
“I don’t know if you’ve been to other towns outside entrances to national parks,” said Nancy Hildebrandt, who lives two miles south of West Glacier. “But some of them look like Disneyland.”
Viad Corp. is the parent company of Glacier Park Inc., which last year lost its longstanding contract with the National Park Service that let it operate lodges, restaurants and other concessions inside Glacier’s borders. The National Park Service instead awarded the contract to the larger Xanterra Parks and Resorts.
GPI vice president and general manager Ron Cadrette also confirmed the transaction early Wednesday. Glacier Park Inc. continues to operate hotels located just outside the park, such as Glacier Park Lodge and St. Mary Lodge and Resort, and the Prince of Wales Hotel in Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park.
Several of the log buildings housing businesses in West Glacier were constructed in 1938. Lundgren family history holds that Dan Lundgren Sr., and his sons Con, Ev and Dan, were lured from eastern Montana after seeing a newspaper advertisement for West Glacier when World War II ended. They and a business partner, Dave Thompson, purchased what’s still known by some as West Glacier Village.
When Ev, the last of the four original Lundgren investors, died in 2012 at the age of 95, Clarke said the rumors began that their heirs would sell.
“Everybody said it was going to happen now,” said Clarke, who has owned a home in West Glacier for nearly 30 years.
Bill Lundgren denied those rumors two years ago, and it remained in the family.
“All three brothers had always been very insistent that the town retain its original integrity,” Clarke said of Con, Ev and Dan. “It was kept small and profitable.”
In 1987, the U.S. Department of Interior awarded the West Glacier Mercantile Co. a special commendation for “sheltering and protecting the West Entrance of Glacier National Park from inappropriate development and for maintaining the village’s historic character.”
That continued to be a priority in 2002, Bill Lundgren told reporter Judith Graham of the Chicago Tribune, who was writing a story comparing West Glacier to more commercialized communities outside national parks, such as Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Tenn., and Montana’s own West Yellowstone.
“People are moving out here to try to possess the West,” Lundgren told Graham. “If enough of us do that, we’ll spoil what we love. We have a different approach. We feel we are the caretakers of this place, most of all.”
And that’s how the family has largely been seen for most of the 68 years they’ve owned most of West Glacier Village, people here say.
“It’s a beautiful, quaint place,” said Hildebrandt, the contract postal officer at Lake McDonald. “The Lundgrens have kept it as a nice entrance to Glacier for years and years.”
Hildebrandt said locals contacted the Lundgren family after Ev’s death and indicated they could put together a group that would pay “fair market value” for the company if the family decided to sell, but never heard anything.
“Up to a week ago, the family said no, no, it’s not happening,” Hildebrandt said. “It’s all been hush-hush. What I can’t believe is this family has been such great stewards. To then, instead of taking money from people who want to preserve it and do this … I don’t know why they did the 180.”
Hildebrandt, Clarke and others say residents are concerned that a large hotel, dormitories for seasonal workers or housing developments could occur on what some estimate to be 300 acres of undeveloped land that might be part of a sale.
In recent days, a group called Save West Glacier started a petition drive at change.org to ask Montana’s congressional delegation to help get the village placed on the National Register of Historic Places (it had gathered 492 signatures, or more than twice the population of West Glacier, as of Tuesday afternoon), and a Facebook page, “Save Historic West Glacier Village, Montana” (in eight days, it had gathered 824 “likes”).
But Tuesday afternoon, the petition drive posted this update:
“Yesterday, June 30, the GPI machine moved into West Glacier to take inventory. With their matching polos and clipboards in hand, they started the takeover. By midnight, the West Glacier Bar was closed and the only cars in the parking lot were (GPI) fleet vehicles.”
And the Facebook page on Tuesday posted “CONFIRMED: West Glacier Village has been sold to the Viad Corporation, the parent company of Glacier Park Inc., at midnight, July 1, 2014.”
The official confirmation came at 9 a.m. Wednesday with this statement to the press:
“Glacier Park Inc., a subsidiary of Viad Corp., confirmed this morning that it has purchased from the Lundgren family the business operations and related land in West Glacier and Apgar Village, on the western edge and inside the boundaries of Glacier National Park.
“This addition perfectly complements our existing operations in and around Glacier National Park,” said Cindy Ognjanov, president of Glacier Park Inc. “The Lundgren family has a remarkable history in West Glacier and we look forward to carrying on their traditions in this historic town. GPI has long served as a steward for the preservation of historical properties, including the 101-year-old Glacier Park Lodge and the 87-year-old Prince of Wales Hotel and our commitment to these treasured places will continue in all aspects of the operation of our company.”