A group of local investors is interested in preserving the history and ambiance of Wallowa Lodge by keeping it in the family — so to speak.

Private investors have begun to gather into a group, coalescing around the leadership of the nonprofit group Wallowology in Joseph.

Wallowology is an educational project of Eastern Oregon Legacy Land Funds, and is dedicated to a mission of supporting the preservation of natural resources through education.

The Lodge, says Wallowology Director James Monteith, is the perfect setting for an educational experience in preservation.

“The interest is both in the lodge and the land around the lodge — to keep the lodge as is and be more an educational venue; connect local groups like Wallowa Resources and The Nature Conservancy with events at the lodge,” he said.

It’s an idea that the current owner, Marc Zwerling, likes a lot.

“I would love it,” he said. “Steve and I got involved with the lodge because we fell in love with the area. We’ve spent most of the last 10 years trying to find local people who would be involved. We tried as hard as we could. I welcome this development enthusiastically.”

Montieth has already contacted the Oregon Department of Forestry, State Parks, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Nez Perce Tribe, and Eastern Oregon University to inform them of developments and elicit goodwill. These agencies would not be financial supporters, but would be cooperative agencies, he said.

“They would have a direct interest in what would happen at the head of the lake,” Monteith said.

The plan, such as it is in the current embryonic state, is that the lodge would remain an operating lodge and the lands around would continue to provide some public access.

“The general consensus is that we keep the lodge as much as original as possible — to not develop,” said Monteith. “We are planning on keeping the land around the lodge, 8.5 acres, open and preserving the habitat the land represents; fish habitat and wetlands for instance.”

This is right in line with the values of both Marc Zwerling and the late Steve Larson.

In fact, when the two acquired the lodge in 1989 it was shortly after Wallowa County had passed a comprehensive new zoning plan that would have allowed “massive development on all sides of the lake,” Zwerling said. “Steve was appalled by that. Steve wanted to do what he could to stop that plan.”

The two filed an action that became known as Larson versus Wallowa County and found further support from 1,000 Friends of Oregon and the Nez Perce Tribe.

The litigation made its way through Land Use Board of Appeals and the Oregon Court of Appeals and Larson won.

“I fancy we played a prominent role in slowing down the development around the lake,” Zwerling said. “Steve and I are very proud of the part we played in that.”

Zwerling remains committed to seeing the lodge in the hands of preservationists, but he also means to sell the lodge.

The deadline for submitting a sealed bid on the lodge is July 29, and Monteith and his group are still “getting a sense of whether there are legs for this or not,” he said.

There seem to be legs. Montieth reported that he gets calls almost daily and so far there is a brisk trade in “if you will, I will” pledges.

“There’s an immense amount of interest in doing something locally with the lodge,” said Monteith. “There may be a meeting or two coming up in the next week, taking input and comments from people. I don’t know if anything will come of this but there is enough interest to find out. We have 12 people who have committed money at five or six figures. We’re looking at a broad array of investors. We’re going to have $500 investors and we’re going to have $150,000 investors.”

The investment, said Monteith, would not need to be an altogether altruistic one. “This is not a losing proposition,” he said. “Usually such a lodge would be in bad shape and unprofitable — that’s not the case with the Wallowa Lake Lodge. Investors might not make a ton of money but it’s a viable business. Investors can know those are not problems we have. You can obviously make more money doing other things, but for people who care about the lodge, this is not a losing proposition.”

Monteith can be contacted at 541-432-3044.

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