MISSOULA — The U.S. Forest Service on Wednesday said a Bitterroot Valley rancher's plans to build a downhill ski area on Lolo Peak would not mesh with existing forest management plans for the Lolo and Bitterroot national forests.
Tom Maclay now can either come back with a proposal that is compatible with the management plans or he can get involved in the ongoing revision of those plans, supervisors of the two forests said.
However, the 900-acre Carlton Ridge Research Natural Area is permanently off limits to development, said Lolo National Forest Supervisor Debbie Austin.
She also said there is no guarantee any revised plans would allow development of Maclay's proposed 13,000-acre downhill and nordic ski resort.
Maclay was not available for comment Wednesday, but a spokesman for his Bitterroot Resort told the Missoulian the development is far from dead.
"We disagree with their response, but the important thing is where we go from here," said spokesman David Blair. "We will continue to work with the Forest Service, and keep working with the Missoula and Bitterroot communities for this development."
Maclay wants to build a four-season destination ski resort reaching up from his 2,900-acre ranch below Carlton Ridge to the south summit of Lolo Peak.
His private property would accommodate the planned golf course, hotels, condominiums, conference center and shopping plaza. The national forest land above — 8,554 acres on the Lolo forest and 2,383 acres on the Bitterroot — would provide most of the downhill and cross-country ski runs.
Austin and Dave Bull, Bitterroot National Forest supervisor, got their first good look at the proposal in early February, when Maclay delivered maps showing roads, ski lifts and runs.
They looked first, Austin said, at whether a ski area would be compatible with the land-management direction set out in the Lolo and Bitterroot forest plans and determined it was not.
"On the Lolo National Forest, the area is mostly designated for semi-primitive and nonmotorized uses, where developed recreation is not appropriate," Austin said.
The Bitterroot forest's plan carries similar direction for the management of Lolo Peak and its environs. The area is also within two inventoried roadless areas.
Both forests are in the midst of revising their management plans, but none of the discussion has looked at changing Lolo Peak's mostly primitive status, Austin said.
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