Lolo Hot Springs feels the heat

The recession has been relatively kind to Montana's tourism industry, though Brent Olson might say otherwise. On Sept. 19, Olson, the owner of Lolo Hot Springs, a year-round resort on Highway 12 between Lolo and the Montana-Idaho border, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

"Our business has dropped off probably about a third of what it used to be," says Olson, a Las Vegas-based real estate investor. "We just didn't have the income to be able to make the loan payments."

The resort's restaurant and bar have been hit the hardest, Olson says, because more and more visitors are bringing their own food. Still, he doesn't think Imperial Oil's gigantic test module, which has been parked in front of the nearby Lodge at Lolo Hot Springs for about six months, has helped any. The lodge has been compensated for the inconvenience; the resort hasn't.

Olson has owned Lolo Hot Springs since 2007. As he attempts to reorganize its debt, Handicapped Challenge, a Troy-based nonprofit that held an event for special needs families there last September, is attempting to purchase the resort. Olson says the organization made an offer months ago but there haven't been any further discussions because it's short on cash, too.

"At this point, all I can say is we need a lot of help," says Handicapped Challenge founder Darrell Eby.

Eby has big plans for Lolo Hot Springs. He wants to make it a destination resort for children with disabilities. He envisions a new dormitory, swimming pool, fishing pond, and suites for families. "It's an escape from reality," he says—one that he thinks will cost around $16 million. He's looking for donors and investors and trying to form a Missoula-based advisory committee. But, he says, the effort is "kind of stuck here in first gear."

"Everybody's in the same boat with the economic times like they are," Olson adds.

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