YAKIMA — Anyone interested in running a wilderness resort needs to look no further than Washington’s rugged North Cascades, where the National Park Service is seeking bidders to manage a 21-room lodge, restaurant and general store in the remote community of Stehekin.
Stehekin is a remote collection of homes and summer cabins surrounded by mountain peaks. Sitting at the north end of Lake Chelan, the area is reachable only by boat, floatplane or on foot.
The Park Service already is garnering interest in the job, which is good news. Two years ago, there wasn’t a single bidder for the contract, and the agency ended up asking a longtime local family to run the resort. That contract is set to expire.
“I would say that it’s really, really quite rare for this to happen,” said Richard Linford, the semiretired co-owner of Echo, a river outfitting business in Hood River, Ore., and a member of the national parks concession board that includes representatives from hospitality, tourism, and recreation industries and conservation groups. “It’s probably more a reflection of the economy than anything.”
The Lake Chelan National Recreation Area has averaged about 40,000 visitors annually over the past decade. Stehekin is a popular camping and hiking spot in summer, often as a pit stop for hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail. It draws cross-country skiers in the winter season.
Most residents either own a tourism business — there’s a rustic ranch, inns and a baker — or work for the Park Service, which bought the facilities after North Cascades National Park was created in 1968.
Concerns about low visitation, potential costs associated with running the lodge year-round, and an uncertain business climate likely led to the lack of bidders in 2008, said Annelise Lesmeister, concessions specialist for North Cascades National Park, which manages the recreation area.
“The timing was poor then,” she said. “That was right when the economy tanked, so I think people were apprehensive about starting into any big business venture.”
The Park Service has since revamped its proposal, most notably allowing winter services to be optional under the contract. It held two site visits for prospective bidders in October.
“It’s open competition and the good thing is that we have had interest,” Lesmeister said.
According to the Park Service, its Commercial Services Program administers nearly 600 concession contracts that gross more than $1 billion annually. The contractors provide services ranging from food service and lodging to whitewater rafting and motor coach tours.