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Turner volunteers prepared to build new warming house

| August 4, 2004 12:00 AM

A contingent of Libby area volunteers is poised and ready to erect the new ski lodge at Turner Mountain, said Kootenai Winter Sports President Bruce Zwang.

³Our volunteers are ready to move and get this thing done as soon as we possibly can,² Zwang said. ³We¹re hoping we can have it up and operational by the start of ski season.²

The lodge site has been excavated and a ski-way was created to redirect ski traffic away from the expanded parking lot.

³We¹ve been working up there diligently all summer, really since the ski season ended,² Zwang said. ³We¹ve poured the footing for the foundation and we¹re ready to go.²

An environmental engineer donated designs for the septic system and Charles Berget of Universal Drilling donated services and equipment for the drilling of a well.

³He went 240 feet down and was able to get roughly 60 gallons per minute, which will be great,² Zwang said.

Construction of the new lodge was approved by the State of Montana as a commercial building. The 4,000-square-foot structure will have two floors.

The upper level will be accessible by a ski-way and house restrooms and a dining room and cafeteria, collectively capable of accommodating approximately 100 people.

The lower level will feature a ski rental shop, first aid room, and ski patrol office. Zwang said the plans were carefully formulated to meet as many skier needs as possible.

³We sat down as a group and decided what we wanted it to encompass,² he said. ³We knew from the size that we selected for the building that the best design was a two-level, daylight basement affair. From there we determined how many skiers we needed to seat at any given time during lunch. We also wanted to accommodate future growth of the ski area.²

With plans for the lodge finalized, volunteers are awaiting a Record of Decision from the U.S. Forest Service regarding installation of a septic system. Zwang said he expected to receive the ROD within a week.

Construction will be further halted until the Libby Area Development Company makes a decision on a proposal for project funding submitted by Kootenai Winter Sports for the lodge project.

³Pending that decision and the Forest Service¹s, we¹re in a position to move right away,² Zwang said. ³It¹s in their hands at this point.²

The 40-year permit for Turner Mountain was renewed and modified in 1996, at which point plans for a lodge were inserted.

³It¹s going to be really, really nice,² Zwang said. ³It¹s something we¹re going to be able to build on for many years.²

Although area skiing fanatics are chomping at the bit to finish the lodge, Zwang said the timeline will remain tentative until funding is in hand and all of the red tape has been dealt with.

³We¹ve used the same lodge for 42 years,² he said. ³This isn¹t a do or die situation like it was for the chairlift.²

Zwang said the addition of a day lodge at Turner will be a substantial economic boon for Libby. In past seasons, Turner has brought roughly $189,000 into the community, calculated by using an industry average of $108 per person.

³They pay for accommodations, they buy food and lift tickets, and maybe purchase a tank of gas,² Zwang said. ³I think those are conservative estimates.²

In addition, approximately 1,700 skiers from outside the Libby-Troy area make the trip to Turner each year. With the new lodge, Zwang said the numbers will only increase.

³We feel that with the new chairlift and the new day lodge, the economic benefits to the community will be astounding,² he said. ³Visits doubled when we put in the chairlift. They will only increase further with the lodge. Turner is important to Libby in the winter season when the economy is relatively slow.²

Once the lodge is operational, the Kootenai Winter Sports president said Turner will be used for summer activities like mountain biking and scenic chairlift rides. Without a facility like a day lodge, summer use was infrequent.

³We want to make it available for other community groups to use,² Zwang said. ³We want to see that building used and used a lot. It¹s very hard to use the mountain during the summer without the proper facilities. And this will make it a lot easier to market as well.²

Volunteerism has helped Turner Mountain remain a best-kept secret as one of the nation¹s few co-op ski areas, Zwang said. Community support has transformed the ski area into a prime ski hill.

³The community has been tremendous in supporting Turner over the years,² Zwang said. ³We have folks that are willing to put the sweat equity into it. They recognize the value of having this local resource here. With the lodge, we¹re getting calls every day from folks who say they have their tools and are ready to go. It¹s almost like an old-fashioned barn raising.²