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University of Montana's Executive Conference Retreat

Sourdough Island

Located just south of Seeley Lake, Montana in the middle of Salmon Lake is a 18,000-square-foot mansion built by the late entrepeneur and scientist Bruce Vorhauer. He called his island home "Anuka." Industrialist Dennis Washington of Missoula acquired the home at a sheriff's auction following the late Bruce Vorhauer's suicide. Washington donated the mansion to the University of Montana, which is formulating plans for it as an executive conference retreat.

The following story appeared in the August 15, 1996 issue of the Seeley Swan Pathfinder.

By Suzanne Vernon
For the Pathfinder

The five-acre Sourdough Island compound and mansion at Salmon Lake will serve as a conference center for the University of Montana during the next two years, according to officials at UM.

The facility, built by Bruce Vorhauer in 1985 and used as his residence for several years, was acquired by Dennis Washington of Missoula in the early 1990s. Washington donated the island property and shore house to the University of Montana Foundation last year. UM must keep the property for at least two more years to meet the needs of the donor.

Groups with a University of Montana affiliation, such as the International Heart Institute of Missoula, will soon be conducting their meetings at the newly renamed Center at Salmon Lake.

"There are a number of executive groups with relationships to the University that could benefit from holding meetings at the Center," according to Jim Todd, Vice President of University of Montana Administration and Finance. The International Heart Institute of Missoula will be bringing people from around the world to Missoula and Salmon Lake for their conference this summer. "That's a legitimate kind of use for that facility," Todd said. The UM Foundation board will also meet at the Center this fall.

Though the Center will be open to groups involved in higher education, it will not be open to the public, Todd said. "We do not want to compete with private enterprise," he explained. UM also intends to work with businesses in the Seeley Lake area who may provide services for the Center such as catering.

The decision to operate the Center at Salmon Lake as a conference facility came as the result of an ongoing study being conducted by the University. Officials met with local residents and other interested parties in May at the Center. That group made several recommendations, which were published in a recent report. However, Todd explained that the University intends to conduct more research before they begin providing conference services on a broad scale.

"We don't want to stub our toe," Todd said, adding that he and others working on the project will be contacting institutions around the country that are now operating similar facilities. Gonzaga University, Clemson, the University of Pittsburgh, Colorado State and the University of Iowa all operate executive conference facilities, he said. "We will be looking for assistance and advice from people who have had experience in facilties like that. We'll be looking to people in higher education," he said.

Todd said that UM will create a new office in Administration and Finance that will have responsibility for the Center at Salmon Lake. Todd was quick to point out that UM is still in the early stages of trying to find an appropriate "niche" for the sprawling mansion and island compound. Meanwhile, UM intends to upgrade the facility to meet the needs of people with disabilities. Some modifications will be necessary to permit the facility to be used by large groups, Todd explained, adding that UM will make only minimal changes.

"We intend to maintain the facility in as consistent a form as it now exists, without making major structural changes," he said, later adding that, "It's a wonderful facility and we'd hate to detract from its current environment."

Todd said that an earlier recommendation to build a bridge from the shore at Highway 83 to the main house on the island is no longer being considered.

The 18,000-square-foot mansion on the island has 55 rooms, including 10 bedrooms, 14 tiled baths and three kitchens. It is surrounded by 10,000 square feet of decking. It also includes a full gymnasium, steam room, and entertainment room. A 4,500-square-foot shore house is included in the facility.

According to Todd, the Center currently costs about $25,000 per year to maintain, including electricity and caretaking. He explained that no tax money will be used to operate the Center. "It will operate on at least a break-even basis," he said. "It has to be self-sustaining," Todd said. "It will not be a subsidy of the state."