by Suzanne Vernon
For the Pathfinder
July 16, 1998
The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation is soliciting proposals from people interested in leasing the old Swan River Boot Camp facility north of Condon.
Kathy Hubbell, marketing director for the project from AdScripts in Missoula, believes that the location will be a "hand and glove fit" for somebody.
"The remoteness of it is going to be exactly what somebody wants," she said.
According to DNRC officials, the 66-acre complex, complete with a water and sewer system big enough to serve a small town, would be the perfect location for a private school, a satellite college or a corporate retreat. Buildings at the site include a large office complex, complete with staff apartents; a full-sized gymnasium and lodge; an automotive shop, and a kitchen/dining hall capable of seating up to 100 people at a time.
The DNRC is looking for minimum bids of $50,000 per year lease fee for the property, which was recently appraised at $1.2 million. Profits from the lease will benefit the school trust fund in Montana. Any use of the facility will be considered, except as a correctional facility or prison camp.
Many local residents voiced their opposition to the prison camp following a violent assault on a camp worker in 1995. State officials decided that the location wasn't appropriate for a minimum security prison facility, even though the camp operated successfully for many years. The boot camp was moved to Deer Lodge in November 1997.
The facility was originally built in 1968 and was used by the Montana Department of Corrections as a youth camp providing vocational rehabilitation for troubled teens. However, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, adult men were moved to the facility, and it was eventually used as a military-style prison camp.
According to Bud Clinch, state director of the DNRC in Helena, his department manages many types of land for the benefit of the school trust fund. "We have what you'd call a diverse portfolio," he said. Historically, the DNRC managed its lands for things such as agricultural uses and timber sales. However, Clinch noted that Montana's population growth and changing economy is forcing DNRC into new types of lease agreements.
"As Montana changes, we'll begin to change our focus and accommodate different needs as well. You either move forward with the changing times, or you get left behind," he said.
Clinch believes that the Swan Valley facility offers "lots of options" to potential renters.
Some of the proposals that surfaced during the recent open house included a Christian youth camp, a regional wilderness training facility, and a recreation facility offering hiking, biking and skiing. Some potential bidders indicated that they would rent the facility to other interested groups during off-seasons.
Clinch encouraged people to keep asking questions and to share ideas about possible uses of the facility. "This is all new to us, leasing this type of property," Clinch explained. He indicated that his agency's suggested lease arrangement could be negotiable. "What we're truly interested in is a proposal," he said, adding that DNRC will consider all types of suggestions, including building remodeling or new construction.
Proposals will be evaluated according to the state's environmental and public review process, and must be submitted to DNRC for consideration by November 1998.