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for people who care about the West

Scars of an unfinished ski area


South of Missoula, Mont., there's an intriguing albeit unnatural landscape feature. Nine years ago, Tom Maclay cut 30 ski runs through his 2,900-acre family ranch, pursuing his vision of a ski resort on Lolo Peak. His proposed Bitterroot Resort resembled other popular ski ventures -- an all-season, upscale residential village augmented by shopping, restaurants, a golf course and an ice-skating rink. But Maclay launched the project before securing U.S. Forest Service permission to develop 3,000 to 11,000 acres of adjacent public land, and his multiple permit requests from 2004 to 2008 were never in sync with forest management goals. In 2006, the U.S. Attorney's Office sued Maclay for cutting down over 400 trees on Forest Service land to make way for a snow groomer. He even chopped trees in the protected Carlton Ridge Research Natural Area, a "nationally unique" Western larch ecosystem. Maclay settled out of court. But the property went into foreclosure in 2009, and on Feb. 22, it was auctioned off for $22.5 million to the company that holds Maclay's loans. Maclay hasn't given up, though -- he's still got one year to find investors to buy his land back.