Local investors take Lodge off the market

Kathleen Ellyn/ChieftainTwo Adirondack chairs with a view through the big Fir trees to Wallowa Lake and the morianes beyond await the new owners of Wallowa Lake Lodge.

Out back of the Wallowa Lake Lodge on your way to the lake sit a couple of nice Adirondack chairs just waiting for the new owners of the lodge. Take a seat.

The Wallowa Lake Lodge has been taken off the market and the new owners could be local investors who buy into the newly formed Lake Wallowa Lodge, LLC.

The group made an all-cash offer of $2,750,000 with deposit and no contingencies last week. That offer was accepted, and the LLC now has until January 2016 to come up with the balance.

Lake Wallowa Lodge, LLC is a partnership of local investors, individuals with a love for and history with the lodge, and Eastern Oregon Legacy Lands Fund, spearheaded by James Monteith of Joseph.

The LLC was thrown together in less than 10 days when a discussion at a party at the Joseph office of Wallowology, the education arm of Eastern Oregon Legacy Lands Fund, revealed that persons with an interest in keeping the lodge in local hands were willing to put their money where their mouth was.

“It’s pretty amazing what people did,” Monteith said. “We had a couple of weeks to realize we could do this and a couple of weeks to convince the owners we could do it and basically 72 hours to come up with more than a quarter of a million in cash for the deposit -- and the people got it done just like that.”

The speed with which Monteith’s group organized and found early investors and the comments of locals, impressed owners Marc and Nancy Zwerling. The Zwerlings, who own the property along with and the estate of Steve Larson, visited the county just two weeks ago.

On that recent visit, Marc Zwerling said, the couple stopped in to see friends in the area.

“Wow,” he said. “A lot of people knew about James (Monteith) and his group and were excited. While we were there, we stopped to see Duane and Janie Wiggens who used to own the entire south side of the lake and the lodge. They’d heard about the group and they were very excited about the possibility of (the lodge) staying local.”

Lake Wallowa Lodge, LLC now begins a whirlwind capital campaign to raise the remaining 90 percent of the purchase price. It’s a daunting goal but Monteith is heartened by early response.

“This may be one of the largest community efforts in the western United States to purchase this type of historic legacy property,” said Monteith. “Our community has a remarkable opportunity to keep the lodge running in local hands, and also protect the open ground around the lodge and lakefront as important habitat for people, fish and wildlife at the head of the lake.”

The community has been reaching out for that opportunity, Monteith said.

“We’ve had a lot of people offering to volunteer to help us to raise funds,” he said. “One guy even called me up and was mad I hadn’t called him. I’d never met him and didn’t know who he was. He said, ‘Well you ought to know me because I care about the lodge.’”

That love of the lodge seems to be far-reaching, Monteith said. People who have visited the lodge, even once, seem to cherish their memories there and want to be part of this new effort to keep the lodge in the hands of locals dedicated to preserving it. So far, Monteith said, when he has asked these various individuals if they would like to buy into the LLC “no one has said no,” he said. “They’ve all said ‘I’ll find a way. I want to be part of this.’ That’s one of the things that are so exciting — I can’t believe how this place has touched people so deeply.”

Those lovers of the lodge come from very diverse backgrounds and political stances that one would not expect to mix well. Which may go to show that it just takes the right idea to bring them together, Monteith suggested. Montieth compared the incongruous partnerships to what happens at Chief Joseph Days every year. “Everyone wears the Chief Joseph Days T-shirt no matter their background,” he said. “They’re all volunteering side by side. The lodge may be one of those places where diverse values merge. A common theme I’ve noticed when talking to people about the lodge was that it was something they could always count on. It was always there. It allows people to see the different kinds of values in a single place.”

An organizational meeting for investors and volunteers was been scheduled for August.

Wallowa Title will handle the closing of the sale. Pendleton attorney Steve Corey assisted Monteith in the preparation of the purchase offer and the establishment of Lake Wallowa Lodge, LLC.

To inquire about investing or volunteer to assist in fundraising, call James Monteith at 541-432-3044.

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