Wallowa Lake Lodge has new owners

By: Dick Mason - Apr 18, 2016
Source: The La Grande Observer

A nine-month-long campaign to secure the future of Wallowa Lake Lodge is ending on a high note. The historic lodge has been purchased by a group led by local investors, Lake Wallowa Lodge LLC. The sale became final late last week.

The sale capped an intensive campaign by Lake Wallowa Lodge LLC to purchase the lodge and its 10 acres of land and eight cabins. James Monteith, of Joseph, chair of the nonprofit Eastern Oregon Legacy Lands Fund, a member of the group of investors that bought the lodge, said he and the others who were part of the capital campaign are very happy.

"We are pretty excited," Monteith said.

The lodge, built in 1923, was purchased from Marc and Nancy Zwerling and the estate of the late Steve Larson, who managed it for many years. They were set to sell the lodge and its property via an auction last spring. The auction was canceled after Lake Wallowa Lodge LLC made a preemptive bid and a down payment of $275,000.

The local investors attempting to buy the lodge were then given time to raise money for the remaining money needed for the purchase.

Monteith and other local investors were worried that if steps were not taken to keep the lodge locally owned, an outside corporation might buy it and then tear down the lodge and subdivide its land for condominiums.

"We are pretty sure that would have happened," Monteith said.

Monteith said Lake Wallowa Lodge LLC will maintain the lodge as an "affordable, family-friendly inn." Later a small number of additional rooms and cabins will be built, with a retreat and conference center to be added. Long-term plans also call for the lodge's Cattleman's Bar, which has been closed for years, to be reopened. The Cattleman's Bar, which served meals, was once a major attraction at the lodge.

"It was the place to go," Monteith said.

A few alterations will be made in how the lodge is run, but they will be not be dramatic.

"We don't want to change the ambience or feel of the lodge," Monteith said. "We love the personal touch and will maintain a personal touch."

Much of the money needed for the purchase of the lodge was raised by the sale of $1,000 Lake Wallowa Lodge shares. Everyone who purchased a share became a co-owner.

"People bought between one and 300 shares. A lot bought one, a couple bought 300 and there were a lot of purchases in between," Monteith said.

The majority of the shares were purchased by people in Eastern Oregon, Eastern Washington and throughout part of the Pacific Northwest. Individuals from outside the region, including Texas, Colorado and New York, also purchased shares.

Shares began being sold last July. A little more than 600 shares are still available and will be sold through the summer.

The people who purchased shares are among the 135 who have invested in the project, including Marc and Nancy Zwerling and a member of the Wiggins family, which earlier owned the lodge for 45 years.

"Nancy and I, and Steve's family, could not be more excited," Marc Zwerling said in a news release. "For many years we have striven to assure the lodge property and the whole south end of the lake would be preserved in its natural state for the use and enjoyment of future generations. The new community-based ownership shares our hopes and dreams, and is uniquely positioned to achieve that goal. Their efforts have earned our strong support."

Monteith lauded the Zwerlings for making the sale to local investors possible.

"Few people have the heart and vision of Nancy and Marc," Monteith said.

Monteith added that the purchase was also made possible because of major help from the Nez Perce Tribe, Bank of Eastern Oregon and Craft3, a Ilwaco, Washington, finance company; plus donors, volunteers and attorneys.

Terms of the sale call for the Nez Perce Tribe to hold a conservation easement, which the tribe will purchase. The easement will prohibit development on most of the open ground of the lodge area, including the Wallowa River wetlands and adjacent uplands.

Monteith said he feels inspired by how hard and effectively many people have worked together to secure the lodge's future.

"Local residents and friends of the county rallied in an unparalleled effort," he said. "I've never seen people stretch together like this to solve such a difficult problem with such a perfect outcome."