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High Country News 1993: A lost land grant: Can it be reclaimed? *

Seattle Times 1993: How your lawmaker voted: forest land *

Belgrade High Country 1996: Forest Service Aquires S. Cottonwood Land *

Native Forest Network 1996: Catch-22 Threatens Northern Yellowstone *

Tahoe World 1997: Sergeant charged with embezzlement *

Tahoe World 1998: Officer pleads innocent *

BLM Testimony 1998 *

Billings Gazette 1998: Land-trade measure advances in Senate *

Phil Knight 1998: CUT Lands *

Greater Yellowstone Coalition press release on Church Universal and Triumphant *

Greater Yellowstone Coalition 1999: Gallatin Land Exchange (cont.) *

ENS 1999: Gallatin National Forest Timber Harvest EIS Planned *

Idaho Falls Post Register 1999: The West on the auction block *

Billings Gazette, 1999: Big bucks the ticket to new Montana getaway *

AP: Gallatin National Forest not selling enough timber to complete land swap *

Yellowstone Club 1999: executive profiles *

Empower America Board of Directors May 1999 *

Christian Science Monitor 2000: Even the Farthest Corners of the Rural West get Aspenized *

Billings Gazette 2001: Anti-logging bid argued in federal court *

Oregonian 2001: Montana's members only mountain *

ENN 2001: Yellowstone club in violation of Clean Water Act *

Billings Gazette, 2003: Big Sky Resort gets a small neighbor [Moonlight Basin] *

Whose mountain is it? *

Snow Journal 2004: Who owns Lone Peak? *

Whose peak is it, anyway? *

Rich Americans discovering state's many 'gated' communities *

Bozeman Daily Chronicle 2004: Timber sale near Gardiner moves ahead *

Private Powder *

Big Sky expands with new resort *

Club pays penalty but opts against EIS *

DEQ questioned about settlement *

Yellowstone Club agrees to record fines *

Exclusive resort fined $1.8 million *

Yellowstone Club developer to pay $1.8 million fine for alleged wetlands violations *

Suit dismissed over land ownership *

Blixseth cleanup deal has some teeth *

Travel club for the rich planned *

Timber tycoon developer now owns chunk of Idaho *

Montana tycoon adds to Idaho acreage *

One Mountain, Undivided *

Site near Cody eyed for exclusive resort *

Democrats miss deadline for filing campaign finance report *

Burns to host fundraiser at club for rich *

Cody ranch eyed for elite resort *

Timber baron offers land swap with state, feds: Idaho Statesman, Apr 11, 2006 *

Tour de France winner sues Yellowstone Club, owner *

Monster Lake to join Yellowstone Club World *

Blixseths Divorce ‘Billionaire Style’ *

Noted valley couple to split *

A billionaire divorce - and not a lawyer in sight *

The World's Most Expensive Home *

Daydreams On Buying The $155 Million Symbol Of Material Excess *

Here’s how Blixseth did it *

The $100M house that Blixseth built *

Money changes everything *

Ski resort for super rich files for bankruptcy *

Rich Feel the Pinch at Montana Mountain Resort *

Yellowstone Club World in Involuntary Bankruptcy Liquidation *

Founders of ritzy Montana club trade accusations *

 

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High Country News 1993: A lost land grant: Can it be reclaimed?

by Becky Rumsey, High Country News, October 18, 1993

SAN LUIS, Colorado - On a Monday afternoon in June at the height of the farming season, more than 100 people gathered in the parish hall here. They had come to discuss, in English and in Spanish, the fate of 77,000 acres known these days as the Taylor Ranch. The ranch is one of the largest, privately owned, undeveloped chunks of mountain range left in Colorado. For communities in the southern end of Costilla County, where farmers use the oldest irrigation ditches and water rights in the state, it's the top of the watershed.

And it's for sale.

A private buyer could keep the land as an isolated hunting ranch. A corporation could buy the land to turn its forests into board-feet of lumber, or gold might be discovered. Or it could become subdivisions for second homes, which would dot the slopes of the 14,000-foot Sangre de Cristo Mountains. It is these mountains that separate Costilla County physically - and culturally - from the rest of Colorado.

All scenarios are possible, but what residents at the community meeting said was that they want this land to once again become a commons.

Residents are mostly Hispanic and Catholic, and number just over 3,000. Settlers came up from the south during the last century to live and farm a million-acre Mexican land grant in 1849.

They were the primeros pobladores (first settlers). For their descendants, the Taylor Ranch is still La Sierra, or "the Mountain Tract." They used it for more than a century as a commons for livestock grazing, wood-gathering, hunting and fishing. The commons complemented small private farms, and for many families access to it meant the difference between having to leave and being able to stay in their community.

Three decades ago everything changed. In 1960, Jack Taylor, a lumberman from North Carolina, bought the tract and fenced it. He barricaded roads and assaulted locals caught trespassing. His actions ignited a range war in Costilla County and launched a string of court cases three decades long.

"We took the mountain for granted. People used it all the time, and in 1960 that ended abruptly," says Charlie Jaquez, a high school math teacher whose great-great-grandfather started farming on the Sangre de Cristo grant in 1849.

"All of a sudden it was a major change in the lifestyle of this community. People felt strongly about it, and the legacy of that mountain since has been violence: shooting and pistol-whipping." Jaquez is president of the Land Rights Council, a group that has fought Taylor in court for the last 13 years.

Taylor had gotten the ranch for a song: $500,000, or about $7 an acre. Some say that's because there was what a 1976 New Yorker article called "a little cloud on the title." His deed read:

"... subject to the claims of the local people by prescription or otherwise to rights to pasture, wood and lumber and so-called settlement rights in or upon said land ..."

To Taylor, the claims of common- use rights to his land, which his neighbors had been exercising generation after generation, were simply a result of the failure of the land's previous owners to take charge of their private property. Depending on your point of view, Taylor was more decisive or more aggressive. He went to court to clear his title once and for all.

And he won.

But the people of Costilla County haven't given up, even though Taylor died in 1988. Last April the Land Rights Council's legal action went before the Colorado Supreme Court. It's a case either side could litigate all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the meantime, Taylor's heirs have been trying to sell the ranch, and this spring word surged through San Luis that an Oregon timber baron was about to buy it. Asking price: $32 million.

While that sale fell through, the prospect of massive logging and mining at the top of their watershed sent the community into a panic. It also breathed new life into hopes for finding another solution for the emotion-laden land.

The current plan involves Ken Salazar, director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, who is a fifth-generation San Luis Valley native. He and Tom Macy of The Conservation Fund went to the San Luis meeting to see if the community would participate in a state-assisted public purchase of the Taylor Ranch. That is, if someone else doesn't buy it first.

As with other land grants, trouble on the Sangre de Cristo didn't begin with Jack Taylor's purchase of La Sierra in 1960. It stems from the collision of one social and legal system with another, and from two different ways of viewing land. From 1650 to 1846, Spain and Mexico made hundreds of grants in the upper Rio Grande River corridor. Yet after U.S. annexation, the courts confirmed only a fraction of them.

New Mexico attorney Malcolm Ebright estimates the United States rejected some 20 million acres - roughly 70-90 percent of legitimate land grant claims processed between 1854 and 1904.

Litigation, legal confusion and bitterness over lost lands are an old story in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. They are an irrevocable part of the regional fabric.

The Taylor Ranch/La Sierra is unusual because its use as a commons survived more than 100 years of U.S. sovereignty. That gives Costilla County the opportunity to create a contemporary landholding scheme that incorporates historic uses.

"I think what we're talking about here is something that's totally unique," said Salazar. "I don't think that the kind of (land) management that we're talking about, that connects up to the culture and the history and the people of the place, exists anywhere in this United States - or anywhere with respect to where land grants have been taken over by government or by private ownership."

It's an appealing scenario. It also won't be easy. Numerous community factions will have to come together with a variety of funding sources. Meanwhile, a consortium of buyers has a purchase option tying up the property through November.

But there's a good chance that deal won't go through, and in Costilla County momentum is rolling towards finding a way to incorporate La Sierra into the nexus of the community again. Given those hopes, as well as the obstacles, Father Pat Valdez appropriately opened the community meeting last June with a prayer:

"Good and loving God," he said, "... We ask you to open our minds, our hearts, our ears ... We pray for your blessings on our ideas and our deliberations. And we pray for the common good of the Mountain Tract ..."

He Wept Yesterday's Tears Today - Ballad of Apolinar Rael by Dorothy Rael Speights

The Taylor Ranch is 120 square miles that include 14,000-foot Culebra Peak. Most of it is in near-wilderness condition. It has timber, water and mineral resources. Some 2,000 elk use it for summer range, and promotional flyers aimed at trophy hunters that grossed the ranch $300,000 last year also describe it as a haven for bears, turkeys, coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions.

A few decades ago it was an isolated spur of the Sangre de Cristos. Today it's just an hour's drive from airports. So in this age of residential and recreation development, the Taylor Ranch seems like a plum. But developers may be deterred by Rael v. Taylor, the case pending in the Colorado Supreme Court.

The namesake of the case, Apolinar Rael, died in July at an age estimated at 95. He was admired for his dedication in defending what he saw as his community's land rights. Many of his peers, the generation that first organized to fight Jack Taylor, have also passed on, but new generations have carried on the fight to preserve a way of life that some have called backward and others have idealized.

It was a life based on irrigated agriculture, seasonal rotations of livestock from river valley bottomlands to mountain meadows, and hunting and fishing to supplement the family larder. People built homes with locally made adobe brick and vigas, log beams cut from nearby forests. Small Catholic parishes sat at the center of the social network. It was a system that proved remarkably resilient in the isolated pockets of the Rio Arriba (upper Rio Grande) region.

"We spent a lot of time up in those mountains because my Dad grazed his sheep up there," said Gloria Maestas, Apolinar Rael's daughter.

"He would remind us of always respecting the next neighbor's rights because they had the same rights we did." Maestas, a retired schoolteacher, remembers going to La Sierra in the 1940s and 1950s with her father and his flock of 200 sheep. For Maestas and her 10 siblings, summer days spent herding and shearing were a holiday from other ranch chores. Meals were a celebration, with barbecued lamb and sourdough bread her father slow-baked in underground pits.

Apolinar Rael and his neighbors grazed their sheep and farmed according to customs that evolved over the course of three centuries - a New World blend of Spanish, Moorish and Pueblo Indian agriculture that their great-grandparents brought north with them.

Charles "Carlos" Beaubien recruited the Sangre de Cristo's pobladores. A French-Canadian fur trapper, he moved to Taos in 1824, becoming a naturalized Mexican citizen. When Mexico awarded the grant in 1843, it stipulated that 200 families must be farming the valley within 12 years. Settlers had to protect themselves against Ute and Navajo raids, so - to entice them - Beaubien had to offer what other grants typically did.

He gave them deeds to private farm tracts laid out in long narrow strips, water rights, and house plots grouped near plazas. According to custom, those private holdings came with rights to use common uplands for grazing, wood-gathering, hunting and fishing.

By 1849, one year after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo turned the region's residents into U.S. citizens, the first permanent settlement on the Sangre de Cristo was established at present day Garcia, Colo. Others followed along the Culebra River, a tributary of the Rio Grande, and its streams: San Luis, San Acacio, San Pablo, San Pedro, Los Fuertes, San Francisco and Chama.

Compared to some Spanish grants which date back to the 1700s, the Sangre de Cristo's history is relatively easy to trace. In 1860, when about 1,700 pobladores were living there, the U.S. Congress confirmed the grant to Beaubien.

Three years later Beaubien sold it to William Gilpin, Colorado's first territorial governor. At the time of the sale, Gilpin is said to have signed a document affirming Beaubien's agreements with the pobladores.

Gilpin, however, had a capitalist agenda and newly instituted taxes to pay. He formed two investment companies to promote the grant's vast lands to Dutch and English immigrants. When he found Hispano settlers already cultivating the best river bottom lands, Gilpin tried to wrest land from them.

In 1871, the Rocky Mountain News published a letter from a community association that had organized to resist him. It warned prospective homesteaders about "a speck of trouble in prospect."

Gilpin's Europeans never came and the southern half, where the Hispano villages were established, was sold twice to Colorado investors. By the time Jack Taylor bought the Mountain Tract, it had had four private owners and 110 years of uninterrupted community use.

Jack Taylor tried to change that. "It traumatized the community," said Land Rights Council board member Maria Valdez. She was 12 years old in 1961, when Gov. McNichols came to pacify an angry crowd in the aftermath of an incident between Jack Taylor and three young men.

Taylor said he'd caught them trying to set fire to a trailer on his property. The men said they'd been searching for a stray cow when Taylor and his hired hands began beating them. Some say Taylor avoided a lynching only because the sheriff kept him in jail for the night. Later, he was convicted of simple assault and fined.

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Local residents continued to use the 120 square-mile Mountain Tract. Taylor and his armed guards continued to run them off and confiscate equipment. Then, one night in 1975, a volley of bullets burst through the roof as he was sleeping. One of them shattered his ankle. After that Taylor didn't go back.

"He was pretty upset that he couldn't enjoy his property," said Zachary Taylor, executor of his father's estate. "He couldn't get any law enforcement officials to enforce the law. He was an outsider."

To Apolinar Rael, Jack Taylor was a thief and "no less than a demon," said Maestas. Her father and his contemporaries organized the Asociacion de Derechos Civicos (the Association for Civil Rights) to fight Jack Taylor in court.

When Taylor succeeded in clearing his title in federal court in Denver in 1967, the discouraged asociacion went dormant.

In the mid-1970s, a younger and more sophisticated generation stepped in. New leaders like Land Rights Council co-founder Shirley Romero-Otero did research, raised money from the Catholic Church's Human Development Campaign and published a newsletter called Tierra y Libertad (Land and Liberty). In 1981, they went back to court with Rael v. Taylor.

Romero-Otero credits two factors in the rebirth of Costilla County's land rights movement. One was the encouragement and inspiration of older people like Apolinar Rael. The second was the Chicano movement.

"What the Chicano movement did for my generation is, first we learned our history and we learned to be proud of ourselves ... Your history and your language is the backbone of a people. And the bottom line in the whole Chicano movement was the question of land, because a people without land (is) like a feather in the wind."

When Taylor ringed the Mountain Tract with barbed wire in the 1960s, nearly every family had a few head of sheep or cattle, and used wood to heat their homes. Without mountain resources many sold their farms and left, some bound for city housing projects. To be sure, Costilla County, like the rest of rural America, had been hemorrhaging people since the 1940s, but its losses from 1960 to 1970 accounted for half the outmigration of the entire San Luis Valley. It far exceeded the national norm, said Colorado College anthropology professor Marianne Stoller.

As the years went by, some in the community began to spurn the land rights struggle and its "radical" activists. They decided the courts were right, that as one judge had put it: Events had simply forced the Mexican-American community into the 20th century. Taylor's land was Taylor's land.

"Progress displaces people," said Zachary Taylor. "That's a global problem. It's a Third World problem. Wagon wheels get displaced by automobiles. Everybody gets displaced. Even in Costilla County people don't live off game anymore."

"Basically what we've watched during this time (33 years) is a superimposition of Anglo-American property and jurisprudential system on a communal system brought from Mexico," said Bob Maes, a San Luis native who is now a Denver attorney. To Maes, the case represents the last chance for the old ways to be recognized. He testified as a friend of the court in Rael v. Taylor, representing both the Colorado and National Hispanic Bar associations.

Maes occasionally goes back to his childhood home to paint. "Lately when I go there, I've been focusing on the adobe ruins. There's a life force that's beginning to erode. They seem to be melting back into the ground. It's a real visual indication of a passing way of life."

Rael v. Taylor is a slim legal peg for the heirs of the pobladores to hang their hopes on. At issue is whether Taylor properly notified everybody who had a claim to the land in his 1960 quiet title suit. It has so far lost in two lower state courts and whatever the supreme court decides could still mean years and years of litigation. Symbolically Rael v. Taylor is a banner of community perseverance. Practically it's a bargaining chip for access.

"If we won tomorrow," Land Rights Council attorney Jeff Goldstein told the group gathered in San Luis, "we'd win access to the land: usufructuary rights, common rights for gathering wood, hunting, fishing and grazing. If Beaubien was here today, he would still have the underlying ownership of the land. He could mine it. He could use it for cutting wood. He could exploit it. In the modern day and age, we have to deal with that issue anyway. So there's still a question of management."

For years people have attempted to orchestrate a public purchase of La Sierra, even before Jack Taylor bought it. But since his death, progress seemed more likely. His son Zachary seemed far different, and he'd hired Jim Cockrum, a different kind of ranch manager. The previous manager was murdered at the ranch by his predecessor - a "thug" by local perception.

"I had strict orders to get along with the local people," said Cockrum, a former sheriff. "The P.R.'s been real good since I've been here." Cockrum instituted "woodfests" at the ranch, where local people pay $5 a pick-up load and the proceeds go to Costilla County non-profit groups. He opened up the ranch for camping on the Fourth of July, and increased local grazing leases.

In 1990, Gov. Roy Romer wrote to Zachary Taylor, asking for a meeting in Colorado. The historic meeting between Jack Taylor's son and two grandsons, and Father Pat Valdez and Costilla County commissioners, took place in Alamosa.

"First they asked me to donate it," said Taylor, "and I said I really couldn't do that. Then they suggested I sell it to a non-profit or a public agency. I worried that a public agency wouldn't give me fair market value." Then Taylor got a call from Tom Macy at the Conservation Fund in Boulder, Colo., and a plan for a U.S. Forest Service purchase began to take shape. "He thought, he had ways of raising money and I thought, well, that might be a way to make both sides happy. I thought it would be a blessing if it could happen."

"Zach Taylor made a good faith effort to deal with us," said Macy, whose Western offices transferred 200,000 acres of land into public ownership last year.

"I mean he rolled up his sleeves and he flew out here and met with us and the Forest Service and really tried to make it happen." Macy worked with former Sen. Tim Wirth to request an appropriation from Congress for a $3 million down payment. It failed.

Still another hitch arose. Environmentalists worried about the mining and logging the Forest Service might allow. Others opposed any federal intervention. Costilla County is still smarting from a 1989 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service raid on poachers, which many residents saw as a government attack on poor Hispanics. Taylor especially sensed a lack of support from the Land Rights Council.

"I'm discouraged by the lack of encouragement," Taylor said. "We came so close not to have done anything." Taylor went fishing for a private buyer and snagged Oregon timber speculator Tim Blixseth.

Last May, on what was generally known to be the eve of the sale, a mysterious fire burnt Jack Taylor's A-frame house to the ground. It was the building where, in 1974, bullets were fired through the roof. Some say it was a disgruntled hunter. But it seemed to echo the range war of the not-so-distant past and, for reasons he declined to share, Blixseth didn't buy.

The current state-assisted proposal may stand a better chance. On Sept. 29, Gov. Romer established the Sangre de Cristo Land Grant Commission with representatives from diverse community groups, including the Land Rights Council and state personnel. The commission will have two tasks: to find funding and to craft a community-oriented management plan.

Success depends on pulling together what Macy calls a "daunting" sum of money: $22 million to $32 million.

"If the people continue to support it, I think they'll bring in others," Macy said. "When you see the warmth they have for this land and when you see their dependence upon it, you want to help them. And I think that could spread throughout the state and pull in funding."

Taylor has signed a letter of intent to negotiate with the state of Colorado if his other buyers, a consortium of corporations, fall through by the deadline of Dec. 1. "I don't think any private buyer in his right mind is going to touch this thing," said Macy. "There's so much distress built in because of the history."

"It doesn't matter who comes in here," said Jaquez. "They're going to have to deal with us. We live here."

The Costilla County Conservancy District is exploring options such as floating millions of dollars worth of bonds to purchase the ranch outright or using condemnation powers to acquire it. Maclovio Martinez, four-term district president, supports the state's efforts but worries that politics could make it difficult to carry out.

"Other Coloradans might view it as another kind of welfare, and how much control would the community really have? The conservancy district is the community. It's based on the needs of people out there working with shovels. That's what inspires me and makes me believe we will overcome obstacles - and there are some big obstacles."

Aside from funding, probably the biggest obstacle is that of community cohesion and vision. Like its cousins throughout the rural West, Costilla County is struggling to define its future. The Taylor Ranch, whatever its fate, is likely to have a huge impact on that future, especially since Costilla County has no public lands.

An extractive future for the ranch would bring the community logging and more mining. Battle Mountain Gold's cyanide leaching gold mine lies just four miles from San Luis and employs 85 county residents (HCN, 6/4/90).

Another future promoted by the Costilla County Economic Development Council would boost tourism and recreation. Still another might be more development and land speculation. Already some 30 subdivisions with lots owned mostly by non-residents or recent arrivals make up 70 percent of Costilla County's tax base. While 77,000 acres of public land could restore subsistence grazing, wood-gathering and hunting to the community, it could also make the ranch a magnet for immigrants and tourists. It's hard to tell how compatible such an influx would be with the community's traditions.

Salazar, who grew up on a ranch 20 miles west of San Luis, and Macy hope to work with the commission to craft an acquistion and management partnership that will blend ecological and recreational values with community traditions.

That scheme would exclude mining, extractive logging and subdivisions. If it works, it's likely to be a precedent-setting experiment in land management and cultural preservation. The repercussions could reach well beyond Costilla County.

Becky Rumsey reports and produces public radio documentaries in Boulder, Colorado. Her report is paid for by the High Country News Research Fund.

For more information, contact the Sangre de Cristo Land Grant Commission, 136 State Capitol, Denver CO 80203 (303/866-2471).

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Seattle Times 1993: How your lawmaker voted: forest land

How your lawmaker voted: forest land. Seattle Times, May 23, 1993, p. A6

Draffan summary: U.S. House passes a bill authorizing acquisition of 80,000 acres north of Yellowstone National Park at a cost of $12 to $20 million; exchanges or cash would be used to acquire the land from a private company [Blixseth, which bought the land from Plum Creek in 1992] that could soon begin harvesting its timber. The land would become part of the Gallatin National Forest. Sponsor of the bill is Pat Williams, D-Mt.

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Belgrade High Country 1996: Forest Service Aquires S. Cottonwood Land

The Porcupine land project has finally been completed between the Forest Service and Big Sky Lumber Company. Included in the project is 1,949 acres in South Cottonwood Canyon south of Bozeman, bought by the Forest Service with federal Land and Water Conservation Funds. This area had the top priority in the nation for land use aquisition because of it is critical habitat for bighorn sheep and moose and its wintering range for elk and grizzly bear. The Forest Service has already made a public trail access point at the beginning of Cottonwood Canyon.

from http://www.forestry.umt.edu/itrr/sub/news/nws03-15.htm, citing Belgrade High Country Independent Press March 7, 1996, p.3

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Native Forest Network 1996: Catch-22 Threatens Northern Yellowstone

Yellowstone Action Alert!

Gallatin Land Exchange: Catch-22 Threatens Northern Yellowstone

nfn.tempforest: 618.0

Topic: Land Exchange Nightmare

Written 5:43 PM Oct 21, 1996 by nfn in cdp:nfn.tempforest

From: Native Forest Network <nfn@igc.apc.org>

A massive land exchange involving private inholdings on Southwest Montana's Gallatin National Forest threatens to unravel decades of forest conservation efforts.

ROBBER BARONS ISSUE ULTIMATUM

In the late 19th century, the Northern Pacific Railroad was granted forty million acres of formerly public land, fully 2 per cent of the Lower 48 states! Due to this legacy of Manifest Destiny, over 50,000 acres of private inholdings remain within the Gallatin NF, one of the most wildlife-rich and pristine forests in the US. Many other national forests are plagued with inholdings, but the situation on the Gallatin is especially critical. The current owners of this land are a partnership called Big Sky Lumber (BSL). Based in Portland, Oregon, BSL have subdivided all their land into 20-acre parcels and are threatening to sell it to housing ad resort developers. They have given the Forest Service and the public until October 8, 1997 to come up with a suitable offer to buy or trade for these lands.

SHELL GAME WITH CRITICAL LANDS

The Forest Service, as directed by the 1993 Gallatin Range Consolidation and Protection Act, has already obtained nearly 46,000 acres of BSL inholdings in critical areas of the Gallatin Range. The Gallatin Range contains the largest unprotected roadless area within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE), and is home to a large portion of GYE's threatened grizzly bear population.

However, as part of the first round of the Gallatin Land Exchange, roadless public forests in the Bridger Range were traded to BSL, who have since been roading and logging this area, critical habitat for wolverine, mule deer, cutthroat trout and other wildlife. BSL have been logging heavily on other inholdings as well.

Inholdings in the Gallatin, Madison, and Bridger Ranges are currently available for purchase or trade to the the federal government. These include important habitat in the Taylor's Fork, west side of the Gallatins, and North Bridgers.

While the ideal scenario would involve buying BSL's inholdings outright, the Forest Service claims that BSL is unwilling to accept much cash. In addition, federal money available for land purchase is very hard to come by. The primary source of such funds is the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). For 2 years running, buyout of BSL inholdings on the Porcupine drainage of the GNF absorbed the entire nationwide budget of LWCF. Getting more of this money for buyouts on the Gallatin is highly unlikely.

MAKING CLEARCUTS TO BUY CLEARCUTS

The Forest Service, an agency infamous for promoting logging at all costs, has proposed trading approximately 24,000 acres of federal land plus 85 million board feet (mmbf) of public timber (worth $10-15 million at current timber prices) for the 54,000 acres of BSL land available (much of which is roaded and logged already). Up to 50 mmbf would come from the Gallatin, while the rest would come from other eastside national forests in Montana.

On the Gallatin, logging 50 million board feet would require dredging up a nasty potpourri of old timber sales, many of which have been stopped in recent years due to environmental concerns. This would include "salvage" sales which have recently been withdrawn due to public outcry. There is no way the FS can cut 50 mmbf on the Gallatin without logging in roadless areas and in areas already too degraded to meet forest plan standards.

Lands likely to be traded to BSL include the entire western half of the Bangtail Mountains, an area of high recreational value guaranteed to be subdivided for expensive homes if traded away.

BSL GETS THE LOGS, WE GET THE SHAFT

In summary, the public is likely to get shafted in this deal. BSL holds the land; they are under no obligation to anyone and can back out at any time. The Forest Service has a very limited array of public resources to offer them for the land. We the public are being asked to make some very hard choices: Do we give away large quantities of public forests and land to obtain other lands, do we refuse to deal with BSL and take our chances with subdivisions and resorts in critical wildlife habitat; or do we seek a balance in between and risk derailing the process?

SPEAK FOR THE LAND!

-Let the Forest Service and BSL hear from you. Make it clear you are not interested in roading and logging pristine areas of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem for any reason. Tell them you will only support timber sales as part of the land swap if they can meet the Conservationists' Criteria (listed below), and that you would rather see the inholdings bought outright.

-Urge the Forest Service to further investigate the possibility of buying BSL inholdings rather than trading irreplaceable public resources such as land and forests.

-Ask that, if timber sales must proceed as part of the land swap, the FS abide by the Conservationists' timber sale criteria developed by the Bozeman area conservation community.

Write:

Hal Salwasser, Chief Forester

Region 1, US Forest Service

PO Box 7669

Missoula, MT 59807

(406) 329-3511

Bob Denee

Coordinator, Gallatin Land Exchange

Galatin National Forest

PO Box 130

Bozeman, MT 59771

(406) 587-6701

2) Write to BSL (Mel MacDougal, Tim Blixseth) Ask that they help find ways to pay market value for the Gallatin inholdings, and that they accept cash rather than trees or land.

3) Copy your letters to Big Sky Lumber, President Clinton and the NFN:

President Bill Clinton

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Washington, DC 20500

White House Comments Line: (202) 456-1111

Mel MacDougal, Tim Blixseth

Big Sky Lumber

114 SW 2nd

Portland, OR 97209

Written by:

Native Forest Network Yellowstone

PO Box 6151

Bozeman, MT 59771-6151

(406) 586-3885

Conservationists Criteria for Land Swap Timber Sales:

These criteria include:

  1. No logging in roadless areas
  2. No new roads
  3. Timber sales in Grizzly Bear habitat or occupied lands outside the recognized recovery area will adhere to the highest conservation standards
  4. Timber harvest will follow Montana State water Quality Standards of Non-Degradation
  5. Timber sale areas outside the exchanged land base need to adhere to all ecological Forest Plan standards within the suitable timber base
  6. Avoid "controversial" sales such as Hyalite, the Taylor Fork, and North Hebgen.
  7. No harvesting of old growth timber
  8. All timber sales associated with the exchange must comply with all applicable natural resource laws
  9. Future timber sales after the completion of the exchange will be limited to small sales outside of roadless areas.

For a complete copy of the Bozeman Area Conservationists' "Gallatin Completion Statement of Purpose and Criteria" please contact the Native Forest Network.

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Tahoe World 1997: Sergeant charged with embezzlement

By Tanya Branson, Tahoe World news, December 18, 1997

A 19-year officer of the Placer County Sheriff's Office faces felony charges stemming from an alleged embezzlement of funds from a caretaking job, reported Placer County Sheriff's Capt. Kent Hawthorne.

Sgt. Steve Church was charged Dec. 8 in Placer County Superior Court with a count of theft by false pretenses, attempted theft by false pretenses and grand theft of personal property, according to the Placer County District Attorney's Office. Church is accused of defrauding the Blixseth Group between April 1, 1996 and Oct. 4, 1997.

"It involved some embezzlement of funds from a caretaking job," Hawthorne said. "It was quite a shock."

The caretaking job at a Brockway estate was an off-duty second job unrelated to Church's position with the sheriff's office.

Church resigned from the Placer County Sheriff's Office on Nov. 24, Hawthorne said.

"It's real sad. He's still a very good friend, but he's made some poor choices," he said.

Church was hired by the Placer County Sheriff's Office in 1978, coming from positions in the Monrovia, Calif. Police Department and the Los Angeles County Marshal's Office. He spent his entire career with Placer County working at the Tahoe Substation in Tahoe City, earning the rank of sergeant in the 1980s. At the time of his resignation, he was the patrol sergeant, supervising shifts of patrol officers for the entire North Lake Tahoe area.

An anonymous source called the sheriff's office about the alleged thefts and an investigation began on Oct. 30.

According to an affidavit filed at Tahoe Municipal Court in support of a Nov. 6 search warrant at 9831 North Lake Boulevard, Church's employers in the Blixseth Group suspected Church of wrongdoing concerning his duties as a caretaker for Camp Blixseth, an estate in Brockway.

Church was hired to contract casual labor for the estate, arrange for security, pay employees, maintain the grounds and purchase needed supplies through accounts at local businesses, according to the affidavit filed by David Brose, of the Placer County District Attorney's Office. His salary was $1,300, the court document said. The document did not state whether the figure was a monthly salary.

Routinely, Church would send a fax to the Blixseth Group offices in Portland, Ore. of all employees, vendors and service providers to be paid. Then, the office would send a check to Church. Church would cash the check and then pay the employees and service providers, according to the affidavit.

Tim Blixseth began receiving complaints about Church's behavior from other estate employees in spring 1997 and, on Oct. 3 he terminated Church's employment, replacing him with off-duty sheriff's deputies Rick Wiley and Fred Carey.

The affidavit alleges that on Sept. 30, Church had submitted a payroll sheet for six employees of a wood chipping crew who worked between 48 and 84 hours. The payroll was for $4,320.

However, the full-time gardener and housekeeper of the estate told investigators that they had never seen the names on the payroll sheet and didn't believe that the laborers existed. The affidavit said that a woodchipper was rented, but the estate employees did not think it was ever used.

The affidavit said that documents reveal that Church allegedly has been submitting ficticious names and work hours to the Blixseth Group and allegedly cashing the checks and keeping the money. During the last 12 months, Church received between $6,000 and $10,000 this way from the Blixseth Group, according to the affidavit.

The housekeeper and gardener also said they saw Church take property from the estate such as a wheelbarrow, chainsaw and answering machine. When Church asked the housekeeper to clean his Incline Village home, she saw some items she thought belonged to the Blixseth Group, the affidavit says.

During the search warrant, a toolbox, electrical repair kit, check registers and miscellaneous paperwork were seized.

Church was charged Dec. 8 in court and given a notice to appear for arraignment on Jan. 5 at 8:30 a.m. in Placer County Superior Court in Auburn.

In another case from an Oct. 19 incident, Church was charged with a misdemeanor of computer access fraud.

The District Attorney's Office would not release more detail about the cases.

Hawthorne said if Church is convicted of a felony, he would be prohibited from working in law enforcement again.

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Tahoe World 1998: Officer pleads innocent

By Tanya Branson, Tahoe World news, January 15, 1998

Former Placer County Sheriff's Sgt. Steven Church pleaded innocent last week to charges that he stole money and property from his employers at a caretaking position.

His arraignment was held Jan. 5 in Placer County Superior Court, at which he entered a not guilty plea. His next court appearance is scheduled for Jan. 20 at 8:30 a.m. for a status conference.

Church resigned Nov. 24 from his 19-year position at the Tahoe substation of the sheriff's department after an investigation was begun into the alleged thefts by false pretenses. According to an affidavit for a search warrant, Church is accused of collecting money from his employers, the Blixseth Group, to pay non-existent workers on a Brockway estate. Instead of paying workers, Church allegedly pocketed the money. Church allegedly purchased items for himself on the Blixseth Group's store accounts and took property from the estate, according to the affidavit.

He is accused of defrauding the Blixseth Group between April 1, 1996 and Oct. 4, 1997.

The affidavit said Church was fired by the Blixseth Group on Oct. 3, 1997 and the sheriff's department began investigating the allegations on Oct. 30.

He was charged Dec. 8, 1997 in Placer County Superior Court with the felony counts of theft by false pretenses, attempted theft by false pretenses and grand theft of personal property.

Church was formerly in charge of the patrol deputies at the sheriff's office in Tahoe. The Brockway caretaking position was an off-duty, second job for Church.

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BLM Testimony 1998

Bureau Of Land Management Statement for the Record

H.R. 3381, Gallatin Land Consolidation Act

Before House Committee on Resources Subcommittee on Forest and Forest Health

March 17, 1998

This bill would authorize an exchange of lands among the Secretary of Agriculture, Secretary of the Interior, and the Big Sky Lumber Company. The Department of the Interior supports this bill.

The bill directs the Secretary of the Interior to convey to Big Sky, by patent, subject to valid existing rights and to such other terms, conditions, reservations, and exceptions as may be agreed to by the Secretary of the Interior and Big Sky, fee title to approximately 3,000 acres of public land. We provide a correction to this acreage in the Specific Comments of this Statement.

BACKGROUND

The 1993 "Gallatin Range Consolidation and Protection Act" directed the Forest Service (FS) to acquire, by purchase and exchange, the Big Sky Lumber Company lands in the Gallatin Range, Porcupine, Taylor Fork, and Bridger Mountains. Since 1993, two phases of land consolidation have been completed. In the first phase (Gallatin I), the public acquired by exchange about 37,700 acres of Big Sky Lumber Company lands in the Gallatin and Absaroka Ranges. In Gallatin II, the public acquired another 8,100 acres of Big Sky Lumber Company lands. These lands, located in the Porcupine and South Cottonwood areas, were acquired in a partnership among the FS, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and State of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

H.R. 3381 provides for additional acquisition to meet the goals of the Gallatin Land Consolidation Act. The Big Sky Lumber Company is offering about 54,200 acres of their lands for public acquisition in the Gallatin, Taylor Fork, Buck Ridge, Spanish Peaks, Bridger Mountains, and Bangtail Mountains. To complete this acquisition, a mixture of federal assets is proposed for exchange, including about 24,144 acres of National Forest lands and 1,860 acres of public domain administered by the BLM. The FS will make additional compensations, which they can address.

GENERAL COMMENTS

Passage of H.R. 3381 would:

1.Eliminate checkerboard ownership throughout the National Forests of this region;

1. Help conserve healthy ecosystems;

2. Sustain productivity of a variety of resources;

3. Protect critical habitats, including wetlands, winter range and grizzly bear habitat;

4. Enhance recreation opportunities; and,

5. Ensure public access on many roads and trails across private lands.

SPECIFIC COMMENTS

The BLM supports this legislation, but suggest one change to the bill. The acreage figure in the bill under Section 3 Definitions, should be approximately 1,860 acres rather than the 3,000 acres shown. Negotiations are underway to increase the public land acres to 2,500 acres through the mutual agreement of all parties. The current 1,860 acres are the only lands identified to convey as part of this exchange by the Secretary of the Interior.

CONCLUSION

The Department of the Interior supports H.R. 3381, and we believe these actions will serve the public well. We support the Forest Service's efforts to improve public administration of National Forest lands.

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Billings Gazette 1998: Land-trade measure advances in Senate

Associated Press, Billings Gazette, July 31, 1998

BOZEMAN (AP) - Some area homeowners who criticized the proposed land exchange between the government and Big Sky Lumber Co. now say they support the deal.

Endorsement by the Bridger Canyon Property Owners Association came after the group and Big Sky Lumber reached an agreement on logging and other aspects of the exchange. The agreement removes a potential stumbling block in efforts to make the exchange final.

A bill authorizing the swap received unanimous support Wednesday from the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Bill amendments supported by the committee include provisions to preserve public ownership of three key sections of land in the Bangtail Range, to add some land trades in the Paradise Valley and the Taylor Fork drainage, and to incorporate rules on Bangtail logging standards.

The legislation prohibits further timber harvests on Big Sky Lumber land that would become publicly owned through the exchange, according to Montana Sens. Conrad Burns, a Republican, and Max Baucus, a Democrat.

The agreement between Big Sky Lumber and the Bridger Canyon Property Owners Association prohibits logging within 100 yards of private property and spells out measures to protect habitat such as elk calving areas.

The agreement also sets forth restrictions on the density of new housing on some land Big Sky Lumber would control.

The overall exchange would place 53,000 acres of private land in public ownership and give the company 27,000 acres of land now public, much of it in the Bangtail/Battle Ridge area northeast of Bozeman.

The swap has wide support from environmentalists, the timber industry and local government, but some residents of the Bridger Canyon/Bangtail area said they were worried about potential effects there.

Although the property owners association now endorses the swap, the Bangtail/Battle Ridge Coalition, with 1,100 members, remains opposed. The group said its concerns include access to recreation areas, and effects on wildlife habitat.

The Montana congressional delegation has said it hopes to see the bill pass this year.

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Phil Knight 1998: CUT Lands

Montana "Representatives" Burns & Hill fail to support $$$ to acquire CUT lands adjacent to Yellowstone!

by Phil Knight, in Buffalo Nations Update on the Yellowstone Basin, November 14, 1998

A large parcel of private land along Yellowstone National Park's northern border is up for sale. Money for its purchase has been allocated from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. However, conservative congressmen bent on budget-cutting and opposed to federal land acquisition are trying to hold up this important purchase, and it could fall into the hands of unscrupulous developers.

The land is owned by the Church Universal and Triumphant (CUT). In the early '80s, the Reagan administration killed public acquisition of the former Forbes Ranch, including this land near Yellowstone, and CUT bought it. Now Oregon land broker wheeler-dealer Tim Blixeth (pronounced Blix-death) is looking to make big bucks by buying this property and developing it. Blixseth made millions buying, logging and selling off Plum Creek's former inholdings in the Gallatin National Forest. Now he is developing an exclusive, rich-people-only ski resort on formerly wild Pioneer Mountain, near Big Sky, Montana.

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Greater Yellowstone Coalition press release on Church Universal and Triumphant

http://hosts2.in-tch.com/www.greateryellowstone.org/happened.html

Government Buys Vital Wildlife Habitat

Yellowstone's Hot Springs and Geysers Also Get Protection

Federal agencies scanned the entire United States this year, making judgements about private land that might be available for public purchase. They identified roughly 7,800 acres adjoining Yellowstone National Park as the most important purchase they could make in the Northern Rockies (and the second most important anywhere in the country) to benefit future generations. Now this important purchase is beginning to happen!

In a crowded news conference in Bozeman today (November 10) various speakers unveiled the first phase of an "exchange, sell, easement" agreement that will bring one of the most important wildlife corridors in America largely into public ownership.

The property is bench land along the Yellowstone River. It rises steeply into side valleys where Mol Heron Creek, Cinnabar Creek, and other tributary streams tumble down to join the Yellowstone. The land is owned by the Church Universal and Triumphant. The Church has owned the land since 1981, when President Reagan nixed a federal purchase of the property. Publisher Malcolm Forbes was the owner at the time. Rejected by Reagan, Forbes sold instead to the Church Universal and Triumphant.

Seventeen years later, there is no mistaking how vital this land is for elk, deer, bighorn sheep, antelope, wolves, grizzly bears, and most dramatically, bison. Bison descend from Yellowstone to this lower elevation land in order to survive harsh winters. But with much of this ramp to survival in private ownership, and with exaggerated fears about bison spreading disease to domestic cattle, there has been an intolerance of the natural migration. Many bison have been slaughtered - sometimes hundreds in a single winter - as they have crossed from the National Park onto private land.

Relief from this tragic state of affairs is now on the way! But only the first half. Please take a moment to read about Phase I, which has been agreed to, and Phase II, which may still need your active support in order to succeed.

Phase I

In the first phase of this land purchase and exchange, the Church Universal and Triumphant is selling to the American people:

* Roughly 2,850 acres of key wildlife habitat just west of the Yellowstone River, between Yankee Jim Canyon and Cinnabar Mountain

* A 151-acre inholding in the Absoraka Beartooth Wilderness

* All geothermal rights. This means no more drilling for hot water-and no more risk to the underground system of cracks and fissures that some experts believe is part of the plumbing for Mammoth Hot Springs and Norris Geyser Basin inside Yellowstone National Park.

The purchase is being paid for with $6.5 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. That money comes from big oil companies that pay royalties to the federal government as they drill in the Outer Continental Shelf.

GYC believes the public acquisition of this land near Yellowstone National Park is a great victory for wildlife, geothermal protection and public access. Michael Scott, GYC's Program Director, who worked hard behind the scenes to assist negotiations between the Forest Service, the Church, and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, commented at the November 10th news conference:

"Together with the Gallatin II Land Exchange, which also provides enormous benefit to wildlife and to people, this is a huge step forward. As we leave the 20th century and enter the 21st, this is probably the most important gift we could give our children."

Phase II

Negotiations continue now as all parties set their sights on Phase II of the agreement. The goals of Phase II are to:

* Purchase additional Church lands adjoining Yellowstone National Park (approximately 3,000 acres)

* Exchange Forest Service lands for other Church lands to eliminate the checkerboard land ownership pattern that complicates wildlife management and blocks public access (the land for land exchange is approximately 1,000 acres on each side)

* Negotiate the conservation easements that will allow bison to migrate onto church lands, while keeping property damage and killing of bison to an absolute minimum.

Please Help Expand This Victory For Yellowstone's Wildlife!

The outcome of Phase II may be vital to the future of Yellowstone's bison, but an agreement is not guaranteed. The next few weeks are crucial. Key lawmakers need to hear there is strong public support for completing this important purchase and exchange of land. Please take a moment to contact the Members of Congress listed in the column to the left. Ohio's Ralph Regula is on the list because he chairs the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee and has promised funding for the second phase.

Tell these members you want this promise kept - that you support spending an additional $6.5 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to complete a vitally important initiative that right now is only half finished.

But do take time also to celebrate the acquisition that has already been agreed to. Some very special land is coming into public ownership and, with it, comes greater protection for Yellowstone's wildlife and the park's geothermal wonders. This is a great step forward!

Gallatin Land Exchange (cont.)

Like leaves cutting loose in the autumn winds, some of our most immediate fears in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem are dropping away. Serious threats to grizzly bears, elk, moose, fish and public recreation have suddenly been erased across tens of thousands of acres.

By nearly everyone's measure, the passage of Gallatin II is one of the greatest conservation achievements in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem in the past several decades. Not since the expansion of Grand Teton National Park in 1950, has so much private land been added to the public domain.

Under Gallatin II, the government trades roughly 30,000 acres of federal land for almost 55,000 acres of private land owned by Big Sky Lumber. The net gain to the public is about 25,000 acres. Together with the 1993 swap known as Gallatin I, and other purchases in the Porcupine drainage in 1994-96, the net gain in publicly-owned land is about 54,000 acres.

But more important than the total acreage, the public now owns continuous blocks of land. Mostly gone from the Gallatin, Madison, Bridger and Bangtail mountain ranges now...is the crazy checkerboard pattern of public and private ownership. The checkerboard pattern emerged in the decades after the Civil War when Congress sweetened the pot for railroad development into the West by making land grants to the railroad companies of every other square-mile section.

Imagine the difficulty of providing habitat and security for grizzly bears, elk, and moose when there was a constant threat of clearcuts, subdivisions, and "No Trespassing" signs popping up in the midst of wildlands. By expanding public ownership, and consolidating federal lands into unbroken blocks, Gallatin II accomplishes the following:

* Eliminates 400 miles of property lines.

* Brings 133 miles of road and 73 miles of trail into public ownership. This is a major victory for all outdoor enthusiasts, who could never be sure that private landowners wouldn't shut down their favorite trail or road. Access is now a sure thing.

* Helps protect 116 miles of stream.

* Helps protect 184 acres of wetlands.

* Greatly enhances protection of several tributaries to the Gallatin River which will benefit Westslope and Yellowstone cutthroat trout.

Michael Scott, GYC's Program Director, says all Montanans who worked hard for Gallatin II deserve enormous credit. "They have made a wonderful gift to future generations," said Scott. "Gallatin II adds greatly to the legacy of Greater Yellowstone."

GYC played a major role in drafting Gallatin II and in building a consensus for its passage.

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Greater Yellowstone Coalition 1999: Gallatin Land Exchange (cont.)

from http://hosts2.in-tch.com/www.greateryellowstone.org/happened.html, Sept. 28, 1999.

Like leaves cutting loose in the autumn winds, some of our most immediate fears in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem are dropping away. Serious threats to grizzly bears, elk, moose, fish and public recreation have suddenly been erased across tens of thousands of acres.

By nearly everyone's measure, the passage of Gallatin II is one of the greatest conservation achievements in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem in the past several decades. Not since the expansion of Grand Teton National Park in 1950, has so much private land been added to the public domain.

Under Gallatin II, the government trades roughly 30,000 acres of federal land for almost 55,000 acres of private land owned by Big Sky Lumber. The net gain to the public is about 25,000 acres. Together with the 1993 swap known as Gallatin I, and other purchases in the Porcupine drainage in 1994-96, the net gain in publicly-owned land is about 54,000 acres.

But more important than the total acreage, the public now owns continuous blocks of land. Mostly gone from the Gallatin, Madison, Bridger and Bangtail mountain ranges now...is the crazy checkerboard pattern of public and private ownership. The checkerboard pattern emerged in the decades after the Civil War when Congress sweetened the pot for railroad development into the West by making land grants to the railroad companies of every other square-mile section.

Imagine the difficulty of providing habitat and security for grizzly bears, elk, and moose when there was a constant threat of clearcuts, subdivisions, and "No Trespassing" signs popping up in the midst of wildlands. By expanding public ownership, and consolidating federal lands into unbroken blocks, Gallatin II accomplishes the following:

Michael Scott, GYC's Program Director, says all Montanans who worked hard for Gallatin II deserve enormous credit. "They have made a wonderful gift to future generations," said Scott. "Gallatin II adds greatly to the legacy of Greater Yellowstone."

GYC played a major role in drafting Gallatin II and in building a consensus for its passage.

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ENS 1999: Gallatin National Forest Timber Harvest EIS Planned

ENS FORESTNEWS, June 21, 1999, http://www.forestworld.com/news/ens/906/fn90621.htm

HELENA, Montana, June 21, 1999 (ENS) - The U.S. Forest Service has declared its intent to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) to disclose the environmental effects of timber harvest, reforestation, and road construction in the vicinity of Trapper Creek, Moonlight Creek, Watkins Creek, Spring Creek, Rumbaugh Creek, Cherry Creek and West Denny Creek drainages - the West Lake Project - located in the South Madison Mountain range, Gallatin National Forest, Hebgen Lake Ranger District, Gallatin County, Montana.

Timber harvest and reforestation is proposed on 1,325 acres of forested land in the West Lake project area. Up to 2.3 miles of new roads are planned.

The West Lake project is one of several projects being proposed on the Gallatin National Forest to contribute timber volume to facilitate acquisition of approximately 54,000 acres of lands currently owned by Big Sky Lumber Company located within the proclamation boundary of the Gallatin National Forest.

These lands are checkerboard inholdings that originate as part of the construction grants given to the Northern Pacific Railway Company by the Federal Government in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Written comments and suggestions should be received on or before July 19, 1999. Contact: Stan Benes, District Ranger, Hebgen Lake Ranger District, Gallatin National Forest, P.O. Box 520, West Yellowstone, Montana 59758. For more information contact: Susan LaMont, EIS Team Leader, Hebgen Lake Ranger District, Gallatin National Forest, Tel: 406-646-7369.

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Idaho Falls Post Register 1999: The West on the auction block

By J. Robb Brady, Idaho Falls Post Register

Across the nation, the sound of lawn mowers and the swish of snow skiers is replacing that of logging tractors on private timberlands. That's because timber companies are making big profits selling lavish condominiums and ski resorts.

This switch from cutting trees to developing real estate has a price. It threatens strategic landscapes dear to both wildlife and people.

This trend hasn't affected Idaho, yet. But it's coming. State politicians should get ready.

In this region the first alarm bell was struck when timber baron Tim Blixseth built a posh new ski hill and resort - the very private Yellowstone Club - next to Montana's Big Sky ski area.

You need a net worth of $3 million to join.

Blixseth is the key executive of Big Sky Lumber Co., which bought the huge railroad grant holdings of Plum Creek Lumber Co., on Montana's Gallatin National Forest. Big Sky Lumber owns fully half of the parcels contained within the borders of the Gallatin, north of Yellowstone National Park.

Blixseth is not alone.

Where they can find ski mountain potential, scenic plateaus, streamside or lakeside condominium sites, real estate salesmen will replace loggers.

The timber companies have a lot of land. So their decisions could severely alter the natural landscape.

They're also using their clout to influence what happens on the public lands. Developers have been buying timber company lands in critical areas and then holding the Forest Service hostage to their threatened development.

How did this happen? It goes back to the development of the West. Most of the timberlands now being exploited for their real estate value came to the companies gratuitously through 1864 railroad grants intended for homesteaders. But in 1899 Congress allowed the railroads to exchange for federal land all over the West.

It's up to state officials to safeguard these lands. That's happening in states like Montana, Maine and New York. Working with conservation groups, governors in those states are leading the campaign to acquire private land for public use and protection. They want to preserve public access to the recreational high country and to prevent sub-divisions in strategic areas.

In Montana, this visionary model has concentrated on the Gallatin National Forest for starters. With federal and state money - as well as contributions from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation - Montana already has protected 36,000 acres of important wildlife habitat. Some of it, ironically, is just across the highway from the luxurious Yellowstone Club development along the Gallatin River. A second and more ambitious project, stretching from the Gallatin to the Boulder Mountain range to the north, is nearing completion.

Idaho isn't facing the threat of a real estate boom on its timberlands just yet. But it will happen. Plum Creek is a heavy landowner in northern Idaho, and its actions could affect the headwaters of the Lochsa and St. Joe rivers, as well as forests in the Panhandle.

Besides Plum Creek and Crown Pacific, Boise Cascade and Potlatch Corp., also have significant holdings in the state.

In the next century, Idaho will need to protect these important landscapes from the timber industry. This can be done through purchases, as in Montana, easements or cooperative actions with private land protection organizations. Action is essential if Idaho is to preserve the natural character of the land and keep it open for public use.

But it's up to the state's Legislature and governor to make that happen. They'll need vision and leadership to preserve Idaho's heritage in the next millennium.

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Billings Gazette, 1999: Big bucks the ticket to new Montana getaway

Associated Press, Billings Gazette, March 1, 1999

BIG SKY (AP) - Just getting a real estate salesman to show you around The Yellowstone Club at Pioneer Mountain requires proof that you're worth $3 million or more.

The development in the works by former lumberman Tim Blixseth is exclusively for the wealthy, and is aimed particularly at the wealthy in search of some privacy.

They're already lining up with checkbooks in hand, said Blixseth, who plans a March lottery to determine who will get first pick of the housing sites at The Yellowstone Club.

It is a residential country club with its own ski mountain, all on 13,300 acres just south of Big Sky.

The cheapest means of entry is the purchase of one of the 100 national memberships, which go for $250,000 plus $16,000 in annual fees. People who want to own an abode on the mountain must dig much deeper.

There are 900-square-foot suites for $500,000. They have no kitchens, but there is valet parking and maid service with fresh sheets every day.

Then there is 3,500-square-foot duplex for $1.2 million to $1.8 million. Vaulted ceilings, decks, marble, ski in and ski out. Log homes are in the same price range.

People who want a few acres around their homes should be prepared to spend up to $5 million. How much they spend on the house is up to them.

In all, Blixseth anticipates 864 dwellings and lots, offered at a total well over $1.5 billion.

The project is taking shape on land that Blixseth and his former partners in Big Sky Lumber Co. bought from Plum Creek Timber Co. in 1992, for less than $200 an acre.

"I think Tim Blixseth is going to hit a home run on this one," said Mike Potter, a Bozeman planner who has worked on the project for years.

Blixseth has sunk millions into the property. There are seven miles of paved road leading to the base of one of three ski lifts, and eight more lifts are planned. Crews have buried more than forty miles of power and communication cable.

And the work is far from complete.

Plans call for a town called Big Springs, with shopping, restaurants and 50,000 square feet of underground parking. Also anticipated are a golf course, an equestrian center, children's camps and a security system run by a retired Secret Service agent listed as "Director of Privacy."

Eighty dwellings for employees are planned by the main gate, miles from the homes of Yellowstone Club members.

Potter predicts that when construction of everything is complete in five years or so, the place will generate $7 million to $8 million a year in tax money for Madison County.

"I'll believe that when I see it," said Madison County Commission Chairman Bill Doggett. Developers make big promises, "but usually it's a long time coming," he said.

The commission is scheduled to vote Monday on Blixseth's master plan, for which the county Planning Board unanimously recommended approval. After that, each phase of the development must receive approval from state and county regulators before deeds may change hands.

Once the master plan is approved, deposits on properties will be accepted, Blixseth said.

"What we're selling is privacy and exclusivity," Blixseth said. "And limited growth."

He said people who bought property 30 years ago in places like Aspen and Vail are overwhelmed by the problems of rampant growth. At The Yellowstone Club, there will be 864 families and no more.

Who will they be?

"We have a long list of household names and a long list of regular people who've gone out and found the American dream," Blixseth said.

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AP: Gallatin National Forest not selling enough timber to complete land swap

By Associated Press

http://www.missoulian.com/display/inn_news/news05.txt

BOZEMAN - The Gallatin National Forest could end up about four years or $3.5 million short of being able to complete the final part of the Big Sky Lumber Co. land swaps on time, forest officials have said.

The vast majority of the trade has been completed with the exception of four square-mile sections of private land in the Taylor Fork area - land critical to moose, grizzly bears and elk.

Part of a 1998 law authorizing the land swap called for those sections - owned by Mel McDougal and appraised at $4.5 million - to be purchased with money raised from timber sales on the Gallatin National Forest.

But low timber prices, environmental concerns and complications caused by the Clinton administration's roadless initiative mean the forest has sold just $1 million in timber.

The forest has until late 2003 to generate the full amount. If it can't, Congress authorized the trade of three sections of land in the Bangtail Range northeast of Bozeman for the Taylor Fork property.

The Gallatin National Forest has eleven timber sales in the works, but all have been appealed, said Bob Dennee, lands specialist for the Gallatin and one of the principal engineers of the land swaps.

The Forest Service won each appeal, but a 3 million-board-feet harvest planned near Jardine is the subject of a federal lawsuit.

All sales, existing and projected, will generate only $2.7 million for about 20 million board feet of timber, said Tim Hancock, timber staff officer for the Gallatin. Those sales may not be complete until 2007, Hancock said.

The Lewis and Clark National Forest has promised $795,000, bringing the potential total to $3.6 million, but much of that money may not be available until after the logs are cut, possibly as late as 2007.

Michael Scott, director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, said he'd like to see Congress make up the estimated $1 million difference.

The BSL swaps, formally known as the Gallatin Land Consolidation Act, were authorized by two Congressional actions, the first in 1993 and the second in 1998.

BSL at one time owned property from the Yellowstone National Park border to the northern flanks of the Bridger Mountains, most of it in a checkerboard pattern with national forest land.

The swaps allowed both the national forest and BSL to consolidate their holdings. The first stage traded 38,000 acres of BSL land for 16,000 acres of public land, most of it in the Bridger and Bangtail ranges north of Bozeman. Then the public paid Big Sky Lumber $13 million for 6,180 acres in the Porcupine Drainage in 1995 and 1996.

In the final stage, 54,000 acres of Big Sky Lumber property was to become public and the company gained 27,000 acres, most of it near Bridger Bowl and Big Sky.

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Yellowstone Club 1999: executive profiles

http://www.theyellowstoneclub.com/exec.html March 20, 1999

Tim Blixseth has risen to success in the very competitive timber business. His first big success was achieved as co-founder of the remarkably successful Crown Pacific Company. In 1990, Mr. Blixseth sold his interest in Crown Pacific and was set to retire when an opportunity to buy over 160,000 acres of breathtaking wilderness in southwest Montana became available. The crown jewel of this Montana property is now known as the Yellowstone Club. Tim's early years as a songwriter and producer instilled a respect for nature, and he is dedicated to keeping the environment within this area unspoiled.

Warren Miller is the most respected ski film producer in the nation. His movies have entertained millions of skiers throughout the world. Mr. Miller brings a wealth of knowledge from the consumer side of the ski industry.

David Marriner was regional vice-president of Taylor Woodrow Homes, a company developing master planned residential communities around the world. His leadership in the design and development of these communities won his team over 16 regional and national awards for design excellence. He was selected as Marketing Director of the year in 1991 for the Southern California Building Industry Association.

For eight years Jon Reveal was the mountain manager of Keystone Ski Resort, and was responsible for many of the ingredients that have made that resort a great success. Mr. Reveal left Keystone to join the management team at Aspen, Snowmass and Buttermilk. His experience in mountain management will be a key element in the development of the Yellowstone Club.

Bruce Bales is a twenty-eight year veteran of the U.S. Secret Service. Bruce finished his career as Special Agent in Charge of Former President Gerald Ford's protection detail. Bruce's career included management level assignments in Washington, D.C., investigative assignments in three different cities, various protective assignments, and as an instructor at the U.S. Secret Service training academy. Bruce holds a BA in Psychology and Sociology and a Master's degree in Criminology and Police Science.

Jack Kemp is co-director of Empower America, a public policy and advocacy organization co-founded in 1993 with William Bennett and Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick. The organization is dedicated to advancing social policies that empower people, not government bureaucracies. Prior to founding Empower America, Mr. Kemp served for four years as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and proved to be one of our nation's most innovative leaders in that role. After 13 years as a professional football quarterback, Jack co-founded the AFL Players Association and was five times elected president of that Association. Mr. Kemp served as a New York representative to the U.S. Congress from 1971 to 1989, and in 1995, Jack served as Chairman of the National Commission on Economic Growth and Tax Reform. In 1996 he received the Republican Party's nomination for Vice President. Jack and his wife Joanne have four children, twelve grandchildren, and currently reside in Bethesda, Maryland.

Annika Sorenstam was a two-time, back to back winner of the LPGA US Open in 1995 and 1996, and in 1997 was the top money winner of the LPGA for the 3rd year in a row. Currently, she is the top money winner for 1998. Her enthusiasm and knowledge of the game of golf will bring strength to the golf program.

Richard Steadman is one of the leading surgeons in sports medicine today. He is co-founder of the Steadman/Hawkins Clinic in Vail Colorado. His innovative medical research has earned him a reputation as one of the world's top surgeons for professional athletes. The Steadman/Hawkins Clinic will be setting up a satellite facility at the Yellowstone Club.

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Empower America Board of Directors May 1999

Founded in 1993 by William J. Bennett, Jack Kemp, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and Vin Weber, Empower America is the most dynamic policy organization in Washington. Through direct action with the media, Congress, federal and state government, other policy organizations, and our membership, Empower America works to fill the policy and leadership vacuum that exists in our nation’s capital and in the country.

Empower America is an advocacy organization whose mission is to steer public policy in favor of individual freedom and opportunity, responsibility and excellence. Uniquely positioned in Washington, Empower America bridges the gap between the array of think tanks that produce white papers on the public policy debate and the actual enactment of policy. In implementing our free-market, entrepreneurial policies into law, we are convinced, through actual experience, that we are the most effective "delivery" system in existence.

Empower America’s efforts revolve around a set of core issues which include education reform, tax reform, national security, technology and social security. In pursuit of our mission, Empower America practices strategic intervention to achieve our goals. Our response to issues, whether reaching out through the media, communicating directly with legislators and political leaders, sponsoring solution-finding or consensus-building forums, or mobilizing public opinion at the grassroots level, is always results-oriented.

 

Co-Directors

William J. Bennett

Jack Kemp

Jeane J. Kirkpatrick

Vin Weber

Chairman of the Board

Thomas W. Weisel, Chairman & CEO, NationsBanc/Montgomery Securities, San Francisco, CA

Vice Chairman

Nicholas C. Forstmann, Partner, Forstmann Little & Co., New York, NY

Founding Chairman

Theodore J. Forstmann, Founding Partner, Forstmann Little & Co., New York, NY

President & CEO

Josette Shiner

Directors

Tim Blixseth, President, The Blixseth Companies, Rancho Mirage, CA

Joseph A. Cannon, Chairman & CEO, Geneva Steel, Vineyard, UT

Jamie B. Coulter, Chairman & CEO, Coulter Enterprises, Wichita, KS

Joseph G. Fogg, III, President, J.G. Fogg & Company, Inc., Westbury, NY

Newt Gingrich, Former Speaker of the House, Washington, DC

E. Floyd Kvamme, Partner, Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers, Menlo Park, CA

Trent Lott, Majority Leader, United States Senate, Washington, DC

Michael Novak, Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute, Washington, DC

Dennis Prager, Author, radio & talk show host, Ultimate Issues, Los Angeles, CA

Julian H. Robertson, Jr., Chairman, Tiger Management Company, New York, NY

Donald H. Rumsfeld, Former U.S. Secretary of Defense, Chicago, IL

Judy Shelton, Author, Marshall, VA

John Skeen, Senior Managing Director, NationsBanc/Montgomery Securities, San Francisco, CA

Ward W. Woods, President & CEO, Bessemer Securities Corp., New York, NY

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Christian Science Monitor 2000: Even the Farthest Corners of the Rural West get Aspenized

Even the Farthest Corners of the Rural West get 'Aspenized' Summer fires stoke outrage over a gated community in Montana, as tiny towns get millionaire neighbors.

By Todd Wilkinson, Christian Science Monitor, September 7, 2000

BIG SKY, MONT. -- A few years ago, Tim Blixseth set out to build an exclusive, forested hideaway for the rich and famous not far from the northwest corner of Yellowstone National Park.

Offering access to a private ski resort, 16 miles of fishing streams, and priceless views of Yellowstone, the timber-baron-turned-real-estate developer attracted the the likes of former vice-presidential candidate Jack Kemp and Tour de France champion Greg Le Mond.

Membership was set at $250,000, with annual fees of $16,000. Custom homes cost another $5 million.

In Vail, Colo., or Jackson, Wyo., no one would raise an eyebrow over The Yellowstone Club. But this is rural Montana, and to some residents, the club represents a pretentious example of how even remote corners of this friendly state are becoming "Aspenized" -- a derisive colloquial expression that applies to elitist development.

It's a lament heard from Florida to California -- wherever exclusive, gated communities have sprouted on the edges of homespun hamlets. But this summer, as fire threatened to turn the club to ash, the people of nearby Big Sky, Mont., have had to struggle with a question of conscience: Should they reach out to help the neighbors who normally would hold them at arm's length?

"Everybody talks about class warfare in this country and that [The Yellowstone Club] is probably one of the better examples. That it is located in Montana makes it stick out all the more," says Ken Wharton, a retired teacher from Minnesota who used to own a home in Big Sky.

The intent of The Yellowstone Club, which is limited to 900 members and their families, is not to be snobby, Mr. Blixseth has said in the past. (When contacted about this article, his office said he was unavailable for comment.) Rather, the club, which is in the first stages of construction, is intended to be a place where celebrities can enjoy peace and quiet away from the hassles of paparazzi and perpetual hounding.

But the proposed character of the place -- as an isolated, gated community -- and the means by which Blixseth got the prized land have angered many Montanans. After all, some of his property holdings are former public lands that he secured through a land trade.

"It was one of the best bow-hunting places for elk early in the season in the entire state," says Joe Gutkoski, an avid hunter and 32-year veteran of the US Forest Service. "And [there's] none finer habitat for moose."

In recent weeks, the specter of fire has also reopened rifts in the community. As the Beaver Creek fire swept toward Big Sky, some locals were loath to rally behind the cause of saving The Yellowstone Club.

"It's getting to a point where only the rich can afford to own a piece of paradise, but who do they call when trouble appears in the forest? They call us to help rescue them," says Mr. Wharton.

In truth, the US Bureau of Land Management has found itself devoting significant resources to protecting all kinds of homes -- grandiose or modest -- that sit on private property next to federal lands. But there's a growing belief among people here that many newcomers knowingly move deep into forested areas, and they should be getting greater scrutiny from insurance companies, local planning and zoning boards, and firefighting agencies that attack blazes on public lands.

For his part, Blixseth has repeatedly said he wants to make sure The Yellowstone Club is not a drain on the local tax base. He hopes to make it so self-sufficient -- with its own security, fire department, and other services -- that it doesn't cost taxpayers a penny.

He even went so far as to vow that he'd use his bulldozers and backhoes to dig a fire line if the Beaver Creek blaze ever approached Big Sky and the club. The fire died out 20 miles south this week, but his promise won some converts in town.

Indeed, most have sympathy for families and property owners who find themselves in harm's way. Mr. Gutkoski, for one, says the public has an obligation to assist those in need. But he and others are worried that the message from this year's fires might not have gotten across.

"It's a foolish premise to believe that when you surround yourself with forest and place yourself in the middle of forested wild lands, fire will not arrive on your doorstep," he says. "Maybe the Beaver Creek fire got snuffed out by the rain and snow, but next year there might be another fire."

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Billings Gazette 2001: Anti-logging bid argued in federal court

By James Hagengruber, Billings Gazette, June 6 2001

Effects on wildlife need to be better studied before a timber sale is approved on federal land near Yellowstone National Park, a lawyer for two environmental groups argued Tuesday during a hearing in U.S. District Court in Billings.

Government attorneys said laws were followed and precautions taken before the timber sale was

approved for a 266-acre site near Jardine, about five miles east of Gardiner.

The Darroch-Eagle timber sale is one of 11 planned by the U.S. Forest Service to raise $4.5 million needed to buy important elk and moose habitat in the Taylor Fork area south of Big Sky. The land purchase is part of a massive land swap between the Forest Service and the Big Sky Lumber Co. The swap was authorized by Congress and designed to clear up the checkerboard ownership of land north of Yellowstone National Park.

If the government does not have $4.5 million payment ready by the end of 2003, public lands northeast of Bozeman would likely be traded away to Big Sky Lumber, said U.S. Justice Department Attorney John Almeida.

Bozeman attorney Jory Ruggiero argued that the Forest Service, "Circumvented the laws in order to generate as much money as possible as quickly as possible."

Ruggiero represented the Bear Creek Council and the Native Ecosystem Council in the lawsuit. He said the Forest Service never fully considered the impact the logging would have on grizzly bears near the Jardine area, which are protected by the Endangered Species Act. The logging would also create additional roads, which runs counter to the Gallatin National Forest’s management plan, Ruggiero argued.

The groups do not oppose the land swaps, but would like a better analysis conducted before the timber sales are approved, Ruggiero said.

Government biologists determined the logging would not significantly affect grizzly bears, said Justice Department attorney Mark Stermitz. Although new roads would be carved into the forest, enough existing roads would be closed in the area to mitigate the effects.

"The bottom line here, your honor, is that the Forest Service was cautious is their approach," Stermitz said.

Senior U.S. District Judge Jack Shanstrom said he would issue a ruling "fairly shortly."

Even if Shanstrom allows the timber sales to go forward, there is concern they will not raise enough money to pay for the Taylor Fork land, said Bob Dennee, lands specialist for Gallatin National Forest

The Forest Service hoped to pay for the land by selling 20 million board feet of timber from 11 sites. Logging is now taking place at five or six of the sites, Dennee said. A surplus of Canadian timber has caused prices to drop, meaning additional timber might need to be harvested from other nearby National Forests.

"We’re going to fall short by at least $1 million by the amount needed to acquire those lands," Dennee said.

James Hagengruber can be reached at 657-1232 or at jhagengruber@billingsgazette.com

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Oregonian 2001: Montana's members only mountain

An Oregon native is banking on big names and big money to make the Yellowstone Club a mecca for a wealthy elite

By Katy Muldoon, Oregonian, March 18, 2001

PIONEER MOUNTAIN, Mont. Warren Miller thought Tim Blixseth was, to put it kindly, misguided.

Another guy. Another out-there ski resort plan. Another recipe for failure, figured Miller, the legendary filmmaker who for half a century has documented skiing's evolution.

Grudgingly, he agreed to hop in a helicopter with Blixseth, fly to the top of 9,861-foot Pioneer Mountain in southwestern Montana and ski down through the feather-light Rocky Mountain powder.

Presto.

Miller sold his home in Vail, Colo., moved to Big Sky, Mont., and began talking up Blixseth's brainchild: The Yellowstone Club, a private ski mountain and gated residential community for those who love the outdoors, are family oriented, security conscious and fat-of-wallet.

Members must hand over $250,000 to join the club, pay $16,000 a year in dues, buy at least one lot, priced at $650,000 to $2 million, and build a home that keeps up with the Joneses.

About 70 families have joined and when the membership reaches 864, the gates -- guarded by a cadre of former Secret Service agents -- will close behind them.

The winter bonuses: Members and their guests don't pay for lift tickets. They get to ski 2,000 acres -- an area nearly as big as Oregon's Mt. Hood Meadows, serviced by five fast, wind-protected chairlifts. Rather than sharing the slopes with thousands, they won't see more than a couple dozen other skiers on the busiest days.

By the time the ski area is completed later this decade, it will offer 13 or 14 chairlifts and 4,000 acres of skiable terrain, which eclipses Mt. Bachelor and approaches the size of Vail.

The 13,500-acre club already provides hiking and equestrian trails through pristine wilderness, and fly-fishing in some of the nation's most tempting trout streams. Greg LeMond, a three-time Tour de France champion, is the club's director of cycling. By summer 2002, an 18-hole golf course designed by PGA pro Tom Weiskopf will be ready for play.

Construction has started on a main lodge modeled on such grand National Park hotels as the Awahnee in Yosemite. Scheduled to open in autumn 2003, it will be the centerpiece of Big Springs, an old-West-meets-new-boutique town to be built.

The project has prompted cries of elitism and "Aspenization" from some Montanans. Others worry that the development could harm habitat for grizzly bears, wolves, moose, elk, bighorn sheep and the westslope cutthroat trout, a native fish proposed for the endangered species list.

But Blixseth, a 50-year-old native Oregonian who grew up poor and made his fortune trading timber and land, says he intends to be a trustworthy environmental steward, and that the Yellowstone Club is simply a prime example of the fruits of capitalism.

"None of our members," Blixseth said, "would apologize for chasing the American dream -- and for catching it."

Tim Blixseth no longer calls Oregon home. Nine years ago, he and his wife, Edra, left their 32-room Northwest Portland mansion for Rancho Mirage, Calif., near Palm Springs.

With their four children grown and gone, the Blixseths spend their time now working hard at play. They're building not only the Yellowstone Club, but also their warm-weather paradise: a home planted smack in the middle of the private 18-hole golf course they sculpted out of 240 acres of California desert.

Blixseth jokes that "some idiot" designed the course. Him. He thinks he may be the only fellow in the nation with his own full-fledged golf course and ski mountain. He designed the ski runs with Warren Miller's help.

Certainly, he's the only kid from Roseburg with such toys.

The son of a sickly, impoverished minister, Blixseth grew up the youngest of five children in a family dependent on welfare. He told the mill boss at Roseburg Shingle Co. he was 16 years old, so he could get his first wood industry job; in fact, he was only 15.

Eventually, without a college education, he made it to the business side of wood. But the logging road was rocky. He worked as a log trader, survived bankruptcies and defaulted on multiple timber contracts in Oregon's Umpqua National Forest.

In 1988, with Peter Stott, Blixseth founded Crown Pacific Corp. They quickly built the business into a leading timberland owner in Central Oregon. In 1989, the company did $44 million in sales.

"It's a great life today," Blixseth said last week, "but it's been a fingernail-by-fingernail fight."

In 1992, after he had sold his interest in Crown Pacific, Blixseth and partners Mel and Norm McDougal and Charles Holliman, working as Big Sky Lumber, paid $27 million for 164,000 acres of timberland and a sawmill in southwestern Montana.

Blixseth had a foothold in the majestic, mountainous state that today he calls "a mystical place."

He and his partners bought the land from Plum Creek Timber, a corporate descendant of Northern Pacific Railroad, which, in 1864 acquired many thousands of acres in the West from the U.S. government for free. Back then, as Congress tried to encourage Americans to move west, it gave Northern Pacific a checkerboard of land -- every other mile within the right-of-way of new track it planned to lay from the Great Lakes to the Pacific Ocean.

Over the years, the railroad sold much of its land to timber companies. The sections in-between were national forest land.

The checkerboard pattern of public and private land became prime trading stock for timber barons, such as Blixseth, and for the federal government.

Blixseth has nourished alliances in powerful arenas. He is generous contributor to Republican political campaigns. He serves as president of the board of directors of Empower America, a conservative organization run by Jack Kemp, former Republican congressman, 1996 vice presidential candidate and a founding member of the Yellowstone Club. Empower America's mission is to "steer public policy in favor of individual freedom and opportunity."

So Blixseth was not shy on influence when the Congress-approved property swaps known as the Gallatin Land Exchanges took place in 1993 and 1998.

In the trades, Blixseth and Big Sky Lumber gave the government nearly 92,000 acres of environmentally sensitive land near Yellowstone National Park. Big Sky Lumber got more than 45,000 acres in return. About 6,000 of those acres allowed Blixseth to consolidate private and publicly owned lands into what today is his Yellowstone Club.

The mere fact that the exclusive retreat -- its boundaries armed with infrared security cameras to keep intruders out -- sits on land that once belonged to the public irks some residents.

"Montana has been culturally open. The tradition has been that ranchers have lands open for hunting and fishing," said Michael Scott, program director for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, a Bozeman-based group devoted to protecting the area's ecosystem. "When someone comes in and builds a gated community, and one that has the advertised economics of the Yellowstone Club, then people tend to look askance. It's very different than the culture of mainstream Montana."

But the wealthy have long made the state their playground, says Jerry Johnson, a Montana State University political science professor who studies population trends and their social impact.

He recently read a history of Gallatin County, near the Yellowstone Club. At the turn of the last century, he said, wealthy English immigrants ran fox hunts and bred horses there.

Recreation and retirement are Montana's newest commodities. That shift and the wealth it brings bode well for those at the top of the service-based economy: the architects, builders, engineers and financial consultants.

But those in the middle and lower ranges -- from restaurant workers to teachers and firefighters -- have been priced out of markets such as Big Sky, the ski resort village just one mountain away from the Yellowstone Club. Those who can't afford to live where they work, Johnson said, often must rent rather than buy homes. They face long commutes, have less time to spend with their children or be involved in the community.

Environmentalists, too, worry about development's impact on Montana, where snow still lays like a soothing blanket over the rugged landscape.

"People want to live in nice elk habitat," Johnson said, "but they don't think about the elk they're going to displace."

The Yellowstone area -- the northwest corner of the national park sits less than 40 miles from Big Sky and the Yellowstone Club -- supports the longest elk migration in the lower 48 states.

"It's got grizzly bears, elk -- all the major species of wildlife that existed here 200 years ago," said Scott, of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. "But the challenge we've got for the 21st century is to make sure those movement corridors remain intact. As people have discovered this region, pressures are being put on private land . . . ranches are subdivided, houses become barriers to movement. You've lost something. Maybe a herd of elk, or a wolf pack."

Last fall, when he was inspecting the Yellowstone Club site, a fisheries biologist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks discovered stream channels obliterated by a bulldozer operator building a fairway. In another area, he found westslope cutthroat trout, a native fish whose numbers are dwindling, dying in pools left behind when construction work dried up some 400 feet of streambed.

Blixseth said he fired the worker responsible.

"Tim Blixseth said that he will do whatever it takes to repair the damage and he has put up some money," said Laura Ziemer, Montana director of the Trout Unlimited Western Water Project. "But when we get to actually altering his plans, we find that he's not as flexible."

The Yellowstone Club feels at once mannerly and casual.

The three small log lodges already built, one at the base of Pioneer Mountain, one near the top and one midmountain, next to small cabins where members can ski in and out, look like well-appointed living rooms. Edra Blixseth has done much of the decorating herself, scouring antique stores and estate sales for furniture and art. The Blizsethes' son, Matthew, a Bozeman woodworker, has handcrafted dining tables and bars for the club.

Guests slide into fleece slippers and stretch out on leather couches or sink into luxuriously upholstered chairs. They sip drinks around hearty stone fireplaces or play pool with their children. A pool and hot tub sit perched on a ledge with jaw-dropping views of Lone Mountain, the 11,166-foot snow cone that defines nearby Big Sky ski resort.

Ski guides serve as on-the-slopes concierges. They do everything from help members and guests explore the terrain to make lunch reservations for them or arrange to have the club photographer take their family portrait in the powder.

Family and powder, in fact, are two of the club's top selling points, Blixseth says.

"A family compound," he said, "that's the primary attraction here. . . . It's a low-key, check-your-ego-at-the-gate kind of place."

Unless it's skiing ego, that is. Long, meticulously groomed ski runs are the rule at the Yellowstone Club. One cruiser, called Quarterback Sneak, is named for Kemp, pro quarterback-turned-politico. Another smirks linguistically at the very notion of a private ski hill: It's called EBITDA, as in "earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation or amortization."

The only moguls on the slopes are the moneyed variety; not enough people ski the hills to ever build bumps. Groomers leave some spots untouched for powder hounds. And when a big snowfall drops feet of light snow, it can remain untracked for days.

"For lack of crowds, it's ranked No. 1," said Andrew W. Bigford, editor in chief of Ski magazine, who visited the club last month. "As far as the terrain, I would definitely put it in the top 30 or so -- even higher . . . the powder lasts forever there. Anybody who likes to ski the powder and the steeps would love it."

Warren Miller, 76, who this month began building his new home at the Yellowstone Club, would agree. He has skied there nearly every day since late December, "and I'm not bored," he said.

"I was skiing there recently with a friend I've known since 1949, and he said there's only one four-letter word that describes this place," Miller said. "Envy."

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ENN 2001: Yellowstone club in violation of Clean Water Act

Environmental News Network, September 25, 2001

Developers of a new exclusive residential resort near Big Sky, Montana were caught abusing state and federal laws Sept. 13. The developers and landowners of the new community must immediately stop releasing sediment into tributaries of the Gallatin River and stop filling nearby wetlands, state and federal officials have ordered.

The parties required to respond to the order are: Tim Blixseth; Yellowstone Mountain Club; Yellowstone Development, LLC; Blixseth Group, Inc.; The Ranches at Yellowstone Club, LLC; and Boyne USA, Inc. They are building the Yellowstone Club, a private recreation community at Pioneer Mountain, a resort area 40 miles north of Yellowstone National Park.

The violations are related to the construction of a golf course, ski runs and roads at the 13,400 acre development. The developers also failed to fully implement stormwater controls required under the federal Clean Water Act and the Montana Water Quality Act, according to a compliance order issued Sept. 13.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality have inspected the site repeatedly, and say the visits revealed several Clean Water Act violations. The Clean Water Act provides for civil penalties up to $27,500 per day, per violation.

Meanwhile, the EPA and the Department of Environmental Quality will seek civil penalties in a separate action.

"EPA is taking this action to protect the Gallatin River, its tributaries and adjacent wetlands from pollution, flow alteration and destruction of fish habitat by soil and sedimentation in the river. This action will also prevent further harm to water quality and fisheries habitat," said John Wardell, EPA Montana Office director.

Blixseth and his partners must implement erosion control measures, delineate the wetlands, perform corrective measures on the ski hill, roads and golf course, and submit a long-term site restoration and monitoring plan. They must also obtain prior written authorization from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for any activity requiring a Corps permit, and comply with all requirements of the stormwater general permit.

The Yellowstone Club is planned to grow to 864 dwellings and lots, offered at a total well over $1.5 billion. Membership in the club is by invitation only. Blixseth told reporters. "What we're selling is privacy and exclusivity. And limited growth," he said.

The Yellowstone Club will have seven ski lifts on four mountains, hiking and biking trails, 16 miles of private fishing streams, a golf course, swimming pool and tennis courts, facilities for riding horses, a health spa and fitness center, a fly fishing lake, remote cabins, private jet service, a chapel. In the process the resort will create a new town called Big Springs.

Other partners in the Yellowstone Club are ski film producer Warren Miller, master planned residential community builder David Marriner, ski resort manager Jon Reveal, U.S. Secret Service veteran Bruce Bales, who will guarantee the members' privacy and security, former football quarterback and congressman Jack Kemp, golf pro Annika Sorenstam, and sports medicine surgeon Richard Steadman.

The Yellowstone Club's website claims that "[Blixseth's] early years as a songwriter and producer instilled a respect for nature, and he is dedicated to keeping the environment within this area unspoiled."

But George Draffan and Janine Blaeloch, in a January 2000 article for the Western Land Exchange Project, point out that, "exclusive private access across national forest land" has been granted to Big Sky Lumber, a joint venture in which Blixseth is partner.

Local activists claim that the area to be developed includes critical grizzly bear habitat. American Wildlands, a Bozeman, Montana group, is heading the petition drive to preserve the Gallatin River by designating it as an Outstanding Water Resource under the Clean Water Act of 1972.

Trout Unlimited and 11 other conservation groups are supporting the petition, along with about 1,400 individuals and 46 businesses, according to American Wildlands.

If approved, the designation would apply from the Yellowstone National Park boundary down to Spanish Creek's confluence with the river, near the mouth of Gallatin Canyon. The designation, never before applied in Montana, would affect activities along the river as well as its tributaries, which stretch a dozen miles east and west of the river, including the Big Sky area and the Pioneer Mountain area where the Yellowstone Club is under construction.

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Billings Gazette, 2003: Big Sky Resort gets a small neighbor [Moonlight Basin]

By Brett French, Billings Gazette, November 20, 2003

BIG SKY - Lone Mountain, long the jagged white symbol of Montana's Big Sky Resort, will soon be shared with another ski area - Moonlight Basin.

Moonlight, located on 11,166-foot Lone Mountain's north slope, is scheduled to open on Thanksgiving Day for its inaugural season. With only four lifts, it can't compete with Big Sky - the largest resort in Montana. But because of its location and the cachet of Lone Mountain, the area is bound to attract many curious visitors in its first year.

"I don't know if it will be an instant big hit," said David Smith, president and CEO of the Bozeman Area Chamber of Commerce. "My first observation would be it makes Big Sky much more of a destination in national and international circles."

He said the Big Sky area, rather than Bozeman, will see more of an initial effect.

Surrounding ski area managers are unsure whether Moonlight Basin will drain skiers from their slopes, although competitive pricing makes it seem likely. However, Rich Hohne, vice president of marketing and sales for Moonlight Basin, prefers to see the ski area as providing greater drawing power for the entire region.

"We are here to bolster the whole area," Hohne said. "We're not a parasite."

With the addition of a new ski resort to the greater Bozeman area, the southwestern Montana college town has become the state's skiing and snowboarding center.

There are now three public ski area's offering over 7,450 acres of skiable terrain within an hour's drive of Gallatin Valley's county seat.

Doug Wales, marketing director of the nonprofit Bridger Bowl ski area north of Bozeman, said that although Moonlight may draw some skiers and snowboarders away, more opportunities for local customers are a good thing.

Rob Ringer, general manager at Red Lodge Mountain, agreed. "I think it's neat to see a new ski area go in. It creates excitement," he said.

"We're hopeful for that outcome," said Dax Schieffer, Big Sky's spokesman.

Moonlight Basin is a wholly owned subsidiary of Moonlight Ranch, the real estate side of the business. In 1992, partners Lee Poole and Joe Vujovich of Ennis bought 25,000 acres in the Jack Creek drainage from Plum Creek Timber Co.

While putting large chunks of land adjacent to the Lee Metcalf Wilderness Area into conservation easements, the partners also began developing homesites and condos next door to Big Sky. Their flagship is a huge 36,000 square-foot log and stone lodge complete with a spa, pool, shops, gourmet restaurant and bar all underneath luxury apartments.

It was long assumed that Big Sky Resort, owned by Boyne U.S.A., and Moonlight would one day join forces. But talks fell through and each has now gone its own way.

"We had prolonged negotiations," Hohne said. "It was more of a timing issue."

Hohne said Moonlight Ranch had always told its customers that the plan was to create a ski-in, ski-out facility - snowriders can glide right up to their condo or cabin.

"The time was right for us to make that terrain expansion," Hohne said. "But it wasn't right for Big Sky to absorb that extra terrain."

That's because Big Sky is in the midst of its own 20-year expansion plan that would provide lodging, parking and services for more than 9,000 people. And Big Sky certainly doesn't need more terrain, it can already brag about its relatively uncrowded 3,600 acres of ski terrain crisscrossed by 150 runs. Spread out over three mountains, the resort has 85 miles of trails.

Hohne said Big Sky's management has been great to deal with in talks about boundaries and ski patrolling, but he said, "It's probably weird for them. This has been a one horse town."

Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association, said being next to Big Sky could be a boost for both resorts.

"People look for that kind of diversity," Berry said. "Standalone ski areas have always had it more difficult than those that are grouped.

But Big Sky Resort's attitude is to act as if Moonlight Basin doesn't exist.

"We're just really focused on doing the things we do well, and we're not going to be distracted," Schieffer said.

But Hohne said his company thinks there's plenty of room for another player. He said he sees the Bozeman region, one of the fastest growing in the state, as a prime location for the new ski hill.

"We're all living in a burgeoning area," Hohne said. "There are a ton of people coming in. The demographics are looking good to us. We haven't scratched the surface on showing what great country this is."

Chamber President Smith said sports such as skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling - the main reason visitors are attracted to the Bozeman area in winter - undoubtedly have a significant impact on the economy. A 2-year-old University of Montana study Smith quoted showed Gallatin County tourists spending $73 a day. The next closest county, in terms of winter tourist spending, is Yellowstone at $46. Attractive Flathead County, with the second largest ski resort in the state - Big Mountain, pulls in only $19 a day from winter tourists.

"That tells you how relevant skiing is," Smith said, as well as snowboarding, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing.

Smith said if you take Big Sky out of the equation, Gallatin County's numbers would be similar to Flathead's.

Nationwide, the ski industry has seen three solid years despite the Sept. 11, 2001, bombing of New York City's World Trade Center and the war in Iraq. Last year set a new record, according to the National Ski Areas Association's annual report, logging 57.6 million skier/snowboarder visits.

The association attributes the increase to new ski technology - which makes skiing easier to learn for beginners and easier to perform for aging baby boomers - as well as ski areas' determination to broaden their appeal to younger users, many of which are snowboarders. That has meant the creation of terrain parks just for boarders on many mountains.

The industry is also focusing more on mountain services, emphasizing the social side of skiing and creating more family opportunities, the report said.

These attributes, long the lifeblood of smaller resorts, is why they have seen their market share increase by more than 17 percent over the past four years, compared to a more than 45 percent drop in market share at the largest resorts.

Hohne said Moonlight Basin doesn't mind being small with a focus on service.

"We're never going to be Vail, we'll never have those numbers," he said. "But we're OK with that.

"We're trying to come out of the blocks representing that Montana sense of hospitality," Hohne said. "We want to get people to come back."

Related story

* Moonlight Basin ski area scheduled to open for first season on Thanksgiving Day http://www.billingsgazette.com/index.php?id=2&display=rednews/2003/11/20/build/outdoors/30-moonlightbasin.inc

Moonlight Basin http://www.moonlightbasin.com

Brett French can be reached at french@billingsgazette.com or at 657-1387.

###

 

Whose mountain is it?

By SCOTT McMILLION, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Jan 2, 2004

Developer Tim Blixseth is suing the U.S. Forest Service, claiming the topmost point of Lone Peak, the landmark centerpiece of the Big Sky area, belongs to him and not to another resort.

The complicated dispute involves less than 20 acres, but it's a special patch of rock and ice. The icy summit could support a ski lift, Blixseth said, and that could be worth a fortune to whoever owns it.

The dispute involves some of the biggest players in Big Sky's ever escalating real estate market: Blixseth, owner of the members-only Yellowstone Mountain Club; the Boyne Corporation, which owns Big Sky Ski and Summer Resort; and Moonlight Basin, Montana's newest ski resort.

Blixseth's suit, filed last week in U.S. District Court in Billings, maintains the Forest Service promised the property to him as part of the Big Sky Lumber land swaps, authorized by two acts of Congress, the latest in 1998.

However, the Forest Service at the same time was making a land trade deal with Moonlight Basin owners Lee Poole and Joe Vujovich. Moonlight now has a deed to the land.

"It's our property," Poole said Tuesday. "We own it right now."

Blixseth was working with the Gallatin National Forest, headquartered in Bozeman, while Moonlight was working with the Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest, headquartered in Dillon, with a key office in Ennis.

"The Forest Service screwed up," Blixseth said in a Tuesday interview.

"I don't know how they got crosswise," Poole said.

Blixseth vowed to take the case "to the highest court available."

The value of a tram to the tip-top of the mountain -- Big Sky's existing tram goes almost all the way -- lies in the fact that it affects real estate prices.

Blixseth said he already owns property near the summit and building a lift there would let him advertise 4,000 feet of vertical drop for his private resort, where membership is limited to millionaires only. Big Sky advertises 4,350 feet of vertical drop.

He said building a tram could add about $200,000 in value to each of the 725 lots he still has for sale at the Yellowstone Club, totaling over $140 million in increased real estate value.

Blixseth also confirmed that he has been trying to buy the Big Sky resort, as has been rumored for months.

Owning the top of the mountain could be a critical component for whomever eventually owns Big Sky, or for anybody who wants to compete with Big Sky, he said.

The closest obvious competitor is Moonlight Basin, which just opened this winter, with new lifts and runs on the north side of Lone Peak. Building a tram to the summit from that side would open up lots of new territory.

Blixseth said he has no dispute with Moonlight Basin.

"I have nothing against the Moonlight group," he said. "My quarrel is not with them."

But he is seeking land to which Moonlight holds the deed, according to his lawsuit.

"The only remedy which will fully compensate (Blixseth) is the deeding of the Lone Mountain property" to him, the suit says.

Poole said the parcel is important to his company's plans as well.

"It's key to our operations. No two ways about it," Poole said. "That's why we went after it. Not too many people get to own the very tip top of a mountain, and right now, we own it."

At the request of the Beaverhead Deerlodge forest, Moonlight bought some old mining property in the Gravelly Range, then traded it for the top of the mountain, Poole said. That deal took 2.5 years to work out, he said, and was completed a few years ago.

Bob Dennee, lands specialist for the Gallatin, said Tuesday that the acreage in dispute is quite small.

And the whole matter is complicated by imprecise legal descriptions of the land, combined with boundary issues between the two forests and along the Lee Metcalf Wilderness area, a corner of which stretches almost to the top of Lone Peak.

The deal with Moonlight transferred about 20 acres to that company. However, the deed described the land in "aliquot parts," which is a verbal description and not a precise land survey.

The transfer mistakenly included parts of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness area. It also included part of the Gallatin forest. Moonlight has agreed to an amended deed that gives the wilderness land back to the government.

The boundaries for Beaverhead Deerlodge, the Gallatin and the wilderness area all converge near the top of the 11,166 foot mountain.

Blixseth's suit says the property was promised to him in the 1998 law, in exchange for Big Sky Lumber land the government obtained. Blixseth was a partner in BSL, which has since been disbanded.

Dennee maintained that Blixseth was only promised the land in that area which is in the Gallatin, not any land in the Beaverhead Deerlodge. Dennee said the Gallatin land amounts to 0.16 acres.

Blixseth's suit says he was promised roughly 20 acres on top of the mountain after completing a survey at his expense. He spent $42,000 surveying the land, but the Forest Service gave the land to Moonlight.

Dennee said representatives of the government, Blixseth and Moonlight have been meeting for some time, trying to work out a deal, "obviously, without success."

Now it's up to a court to decide.

"Eventually, it will be resolved," Dennee said.

###

Snow Journal 2004: Who owns Lone Peak?

by Chris Bradford, Snow Journal, January 2, 2004

http://www.snowjournal.com/page.php?cid=doc713

BOZEMAN, Montana -- Developer Tim Blixseth is suing the U.S. Forest Service, claiming the topmost point of Lone Peak belongs to him. Lone Peak is shared among Yellowstone Mountain Club, Big Sky and the new Moonlight Basin.

The complicated suit involves a 20-acre rocky parcel at the summit of Lone Peak. Tim Blixseth, owner of the private Yellowstone Mountain Club, claims that the Forest Service promised the property to him as part of the Big Sky Lumber land swaps, authorized by two acts of Congress (1998).

The US Forest Service recently deeded the 20-acre parcel to Moonlight Basin owners Lee Poole and Joe Vujovich as part of the new ski development.

"It's our property," Poole, said Tuesday. "We own it right now."

Blixseth told local reporters that the rocky summit could support a ski lift and it could be worth a fortune to whoever owns it.

"Owning the top of the mountain could be a critical component for whomever eventually owns Big Sky or wants to compete with Big Sky", he said. "The Forest Service screwed up".

It is known, at least in the local area, that Blixseth has been interested in purchasing Big Sky Resort for several years.

Complicating the matter are imprecise legal descriptions of the land, combined with boundary issues between the Beaverhead-Deerlodge and the Gallatin National forests, and along the Lee Metcalf Wilderness area.

The suit was filed last week at the U.S.District Court in Billings.

---------------

Whose peak is it, anyway?

Vail Trail Resort Roundup, Jan 16, 2004

http://www.vailtrail.com/newsdetail.cfm?NewsID=1745

Tim Blixseth, owner of the exclusive Yellowstone Mountain Club ski resort in Montana, is suing the U.S. Forest Service over ownership of Lone Peak, according to the Snow Journal. Three areas operate on the flanks of the peak; the Yellowstone Club, Big Sky, and a public resort on private land, the new Moonlight Basin.

According to the Snow Journal, the complicated legal battle involves a rocky 20-acre parcel at the top of the mountain that Blixseth claims was promised to him by the Forest Service as part of a congressionally authorized 1998 land swap. But the federal agency recently deeded the land to the owners of the new Moonlight Basin resort.

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Rich Americans discovering state's many 'gated' communities

By ALLISON FARRELL

Billings Gazette, January 19, 2004

BIG SKY - This ain't your grandmother's log cabin. There's no cranky woodstove to stoke. No generator to spark. And the guns hanging on the glossy log walls are for decoration only.

A bottle of French wine waits on the counter of the galley kitchen, right next to the Starbucks coffee.

In this cabin, white linens hang in the softly lit bathroom. The mammoth bed, layered with soft fabrics and velvet calicos, faces a floor-to-ceiling stone hearth that radiates warmth even when the fire's out.

An old-fashioned wall sign advertises a "Blue Plate Special" for 35 cents.

But nothing here costs 35 cents. In fact, this two-story cabin with its wrap-around deck didn't exist back when meals were 35 cents.

This cabin costs more like $250 a night for invited guests only. And if you want to stay "on property" longer, if you want to return to this new Montana, you better be a multimillionaire.

This is the only gated ski and golf community in Montana. This is the Yellowstone Club in Big Sky.

New way of life There was a time when the words "Montana log cabin" meant two rooms, homemade bunk beds and midnight trips to the outhouse. But times have changed.

In 1990, Montana had 276 houses worth $300,000 or more. By 2000, that figure had climbed to 4,735, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And that was the year the Census Bureau added a new category of homes in Montana - those costing $1 million or more.

As of 2000, there were 324 million-dollar homes in Montana, a number that exceeds the total number of $300,000-plus houses in Montana in 1990.

It's easy to see that number is rising.

People from elsewhere and everywhere - many baby boomers and new-money families - are flocking to Montana from metropolitan areas.

They want to escape busy lives and crowded resorts, said Hank Kashiwa, vice president of marketing at the Yellowstone Club.

"In general, people like Montana," Kashiwa said. "It's quiet. The people are so nice and friendly."

But some of these Montana newcomers are bringing a bit of the city with them - their gates.

Walls, fences, gates Gated communities, now common in more populated areas of the United States, have finally sprung up in Montana.

More gated communities dot Montana's verdant valleys and mountain foothills. There's the Yellowstone Club. There's Whitefish Hills on the west side of the city. The laid-back Stock Farm outside Hamilton, with it's semi-open gate policy, caters to more relaxed wealth.

At least two more gated communities have sprouted in Big Sky, and another is planned for Whitefish. Developers are pushing the Silver Bow Club on the Big Hole River.

Gated retreats can even be found around Seeley Lake and Nye in Stillwater County.

Theories abound as to why people want to live behind gates. Big Sky locals warming bar stools at the Corral one cold afternoon have their own ideas.

"I think people living in a gated community are doing it for a status symbol," said Vernon Bays, a Corral cook. "Or it's paranoid people. But I don't know what's in their minds."

One of the country's foremost scholars on gated communities agrees in part with Bays' barstool philosophy.

"I believe most strongly it's absolutely about status," said Mary Gail Snyder, professor of urban studies at the University of New Orleans and co-author of the book "Fortress America: Gated Communities in the United States."

But it is also about control, Snyder said.

"The one thing the rich have always had is control," she said. "With the second-home communities, you have a very high need for control. People need to feel their house is protected when they are not there."

Neighborhood watch In fact, the members of Montana's various gated communities have so much control over who stays, who goes, who gets in and who they meet that not one resident could be found or contacted to comment on exactly why they bought into one of the communities.

The asphalt roads winding through these luxury compounds were empty - with the exception of contractors, servicemen and delivery drivers. At all three communities, all but one home was unoccupied.

Requests made at the Yellowstone Club and Whitefish Hills to speak with members went unanswered.

But spokesmen for the various communities invariably give the same reasons for the gates: security, privacy and exclusivity.

"What these people like about it is the protection from the general public," said Dan Buffkin of Coldwell Banker in Whitefish, the listing agent for the remaining lots in the Whitefish Hills development.

"I think the gate also makes people feel like they're part of an exclusive community," Buffkin said. "When you say you live in Whitefish Hills, it's more than saying you own 10 acres west of town."

The spokeswoman for the Yellowstone Club said residents like the fact that someone is keeping an eye on - and the public away from - their mountain retreats. Former Secret Service agent Bruce Bales oversees the club's staff of more than 20 security professionals.

"They're really here to help and to make sure the appropriate people are on property," said club spokeswoman Brandy Miller.

Movin' on out All this in a state where the median income falls below $30,000 a year. Some locals in Whitefish figure they're being herded right out of their hometown.

"If you make less than $15 an hour, you can't afford to purchase a home in Whitefish," said Mike Jopek, a local farmer and chairman of the City-County Planning Commission. "The average wage in Whitefish is $8."

Jopek said locals are being forced further out as the wealthy make offers on their property that they can't refuse.

"There's a lot of old timers looking to cash out," Jopek said. "There's a part of us that thinks we'll cash out ourselves."

But he wonders how far Whitefish is from becoming another Jackson Hole, where local workers have been pushed out and over the pass, where they are bused back into town to staff boutiques and bistros for the wealthy.

"There is definitely a proliferation of gated communities coming into the area," Jopek said. "Yet those gates don't offer ways for the traditional and historic values to show through."

A look at 3 'gated' Montana communities

The Yellowstone Club

Initiation fee: $250,000

Lots: $600,000 to several million dollars

Homes: Several million dollars

Dues: $16,000 per year

Total residences: 864 "doors," including condominiums

Famous members: Former vice president Dan Quayle, vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp, pro golfer Annika Sorenstam, cyclist Greg LeMond.

Attractions: Private 2,400-acre ski mountain, golf course designed by pro-golfer Tom Weiskopf, Director of Skiing Warren Miller, the filmmaker

How to get there: Must have a net worth of $3 million and must, after expressing interest, be invited by owners Tim and Edra Blixseth.

The Stock Farm

Initiation fee: $125,000

Lots: $350,000 to $795,000

Homes: Up to several million dollars

Dues: $5,580 per year

Total residences: 90 homesites

Famous members: Stock Farm co-founder and financial magnate Charles Schwab, sports announcer Brent Musburger.

Attractions: Golf course designed by pro golfer Tom Fazio, common horse barn, riding arena and trails

Whitefish Hills

Initiation fee: None

Lots: $200,000 to $740,000

Home: Up to several million dollars

Dues: $100 month for maintenance of roads, weeds, trails and common areas

Total residences: 60 lots

Attractions: Equestrian community with common trails

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Bozeman Daily Chronicle 2004: Timber sale near Gardiner moves ahead

By Scott McMillion, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Jan 28, 2004

LIVINGSTON -- The U.S. Forest Service is moving ahead with a controversial timber sale near Gardiner.

But environmental groups that already halted the sale once in federal appeals court are vowing to fight on.

The Darroch-Eagle sale proposes to harvest 1.5 million board feet from about 195 acres in the Jardine area northeast of Gardiner.

Differing versions of the sale have been on the table since 1998, when it was first proposed as a way to help finance the Big Sky Lumber land swaps.

That swap package called for the Forest Service to sell $4.5 million worth of logs to pay for several sections of BSL land in the Taylor Fork drainage south of Big Sky.

When the Gallatin National Forest couldn't harvest enough trees to make the December 2003 deadline, Congress arranged for the Gallatin to borrow enough money to make up the difference.

However, the Gallatin must repay that $2.8 million borrowed from another Forest Service fund, according to the legislation authored by Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont.

It's unclear how much money the newest version of the sale would generate.

An earlier version fetched a bid of about $900,000 from R-Y Timber in Livingston.

"They have a valid contract, but we don't know if they're going to hang with us or not," said Ken Britton, district ranger in Gardiner.

The latest environmental assessment on the sale said the price could be as little as $176,000, but could vary considerably, depending on market conditions.

"We don't know what's going to go to pay off the debt," Britton said.

The same sale was halted by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco last year. The three-judge panel faulted the sale's plans in two areas: the possibility that logging would chase grizzly bears to a nearby sheep allotment, where the bruins would likely get in trouble; and an overabundance of roads in the area.

Britton said the road-density issue can be resolved by closing a few miles of existing roads, either seasonally or permanently.

The grizzly bear issue has been studied and documented more thoroughly, Britton said, and the study found the sale would have little impact on the bears.

The Gardiner-based Bear Creek Council is one of the groups that won in court last year. Member Hank Rate said Monday that the new environmental assessment, which is about an inch thick, is being thoroughly studied, but so far he isn't impressed.

The EA was meant to study different alternatives, but instead it focuses on the goal of getting the timber out because the Forest Service sold it before the legal process was exhausted.

"The outcome is predetermined, based on the fact that the sale has already been awarded," he said.

###

 

Private Powder

by Kerry A. Dolan, Forbes, March 1, 2004

No lift lines, no hoi polloi. At Montana's Yellowstone Club skiers schuss a members-only mountain.

For Kyle and Laura Winning of Newport Beach, California, it's paradise. Says Laura, "Our boys, 5 and 9, just love it." She's referring to the Yellowstone Club, 90 minutes south of Bozeman, Montana: uncrowded slopes in a beautiful locale, with terrain challenging enough for the most advanced skier. There are seven chairlifts, with eight more planned. Yet when the Winnings visited right before Christmas, they counted only 16 nonemployees on the freshly groomed slopes. Even at the height of ski season, lift lines are practically unknown.

The club occupies 22 square miles of mountains, valleys and rivers--much of it pristine wilderness. In summer there is hiking, horseback riding, fishing. In July the club will open an 18-hole golf course, designed by former British Open champion Tom Weiskopf.

Admittance to this pleasure dome comes at a steep price. Prospective members must show a net worth of $3 million, plunk down an initiation fee of $250,000, pay $16,000 in annual dues and buy property. An average-size lot is 2 acres and costs $1.4 million, to which must be added the cost of building a home. Members waiting for their homes to be finished can stay in one of 42 log cabins (decorated by club founder Timothy L. Blixseth's wife, Edra), which cost from $415 to $850 a night. Once you've footed the bill for all that, though, you don't pay anything for lift tickets or greens fees.

Money alone won't gain you entry to the club. You must also pass Blixseth's sniff test. Blixseth, 53, claims he once tore up the $1 million check of a prospective member who insulted one of the club's waiters. (The place has three restaurants.) He also says that as self-described "benevolent dictator," he reserves the right to eject any member, after paying back the miscreant's fees. So far he hasn't had to do it.

Some Bozemanites wish that they could blackball Blixseth. The developer caught considerable heat, for example, when in 2001--at the height of fire season--he unleashed a 20-minute fireworks display as part of an annual wingding at the club. Though fire trucks were present, and though a permit had been obtained, Bozeman's newspaper dubbed the incident "a serious lapse in judgment."

Montana's Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are in negotiations with Blixseth over alleged violations of the Clean Water Act, including the discharge of waste without a permit and the deposit of fill material in wetlands. Timothy R. Stevens of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, an environmental group in Bozeman, calls it "a pattern of seemingly willful violations." Responds Blixseth: "We have 22 square miles and the alleged disturbances are on less than 3 acres. Probably on most developments contractors make some mistakes."

A son of Norwegian immigrants, Blixseth grew up poor in Roseburg, Oregon. He skipped college in order to try making money in Hollywood as a musician and songwriter. That didn't pan out, so he went back to the business he'd known growing up: timber. He built a fortune buying and selling land, only to go bankrupt in 1981. He rebounded, forming Crown Pacific Lumber with a Portland, Oregon partner. In 1991, having sold his share of that business, he paid $19 million for 140,000 acres of timberland near Yellowstone National Park. At $136 an acre, he says, "it was the last great buy." He subsequently swapped it for the Yellowstone Club's acreage (plus other parcels elsewhere in the state).

Originally he intended, he says, to create a small retreat for his own family and a few friends. But his vision grew. Now he foresees a club membership of 864. At that size, dues of $13.8 million would provide enough revenue to keep the place running and to accrue a reserve. The entire project, he thinks, will cost $225 million.

There were days, right after the resort opened in 1999, when Blixseth felt anything but confident. "Almost every morning, I thought, ‘God, I hope this works,'" he says. When he got to 50 members, he breathed easier.

Those who have made the cut include former Vice President Dan Quayle, bicycle racer Greg LeMond and golfer Annika Sorenstam. The guest list has included international diplomats and heads of state. The nonfamous include entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and investment bankers. "We thought it would be a bunch of snooty rich people, but it's not," says Laura Winning.

###

 

Big Sky expands with new resort

By BRETT FRENCH

Billings Gazette, April 30, 2004

Building will boom again in this mountain resort community after the approval of the first phase of an exclusive resort project and the announcement that Moonlight Basin ski area will add another chairlift.

The Gallatin County Commission on Tuesday approved the first phase of Spanish Peaks Resort, according to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. When completed, the resort will include 800 units spread over 2,500 acres with a private 18-hole golf course, stables, riding trails and a private lift to access Big Sky Resort's ski runs.

Moonlight Basin, which opened for business last year and is the first new ski resort in the United States in 20 years, plans to add a quad chairlift for the 2004-05 season. The lift would haul 1,500 skiers an hour to access 20 trails on 500 acres of gladed terrain. The Lone Tree Lift will be to the west of the ski area's four other lifts.

"We knew we needed to fold in this terrain to keep people interested," said Rich Hohne, vice president of marketing.

Hohne said the new area has steep runs, long groomed runs and advanced hike-to slopes.

"It's a good variation," he said.

The new terrain was previously used by Montana Backcountry Adventures, a snowcat skiing business no longer in operation.

Day lift ticket prices could increase by a dollar, Hohne said. The current ticket price is $39.

"We're trying to be aggressive about getting people out," Hohne said. "We're not going to hike the prices."

Moonlight Basin is part of a larger development, Moonlight Basin Ranch, owned by Lee Poole and Joe Vujovich of Ennis. The ranch is the real estate side of the business and includes the spacious Moonlight Lodge. The development is located on the north slope of 11,166-foot Lone Mountain, next door to Big Sky Resort, Montana's largest ski hill.

But Moonlight is small in comparison to what's planned at the Spanish Peaks Resort. Home sites in the resort will range in price from $250,000 to $700,000, with condos starting at $350,000 and six-bedroom homes at $1.6 million, according to news reports.

The Spanish Peaks Resort is planned southeast of the community of Big Sky and would include a town center complete with a lodge, restaurant, spa, fitness center and coffee shop.

Spanish Peaks Resort is a new project for the developers of the area's other private resort, the exclusive Yellowstone Club, Montana's only gated resort community.

Amid the building boom, the skiing community's resort players are in the throes of a couple of legal tussles.

Yellowstone Club developer Tim Blixseth sued the Forest Service late last year over ownership of the top of Lone Peak. Right now, Moonlight Basin claims ownership of the peak after a land trade with the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest.

In another territorial dispute, Big Sky Resort, owned by Boyne USA, filed suit against Moonlight Basin in February, charging that the ski area's avalanche control devices endangered Big Sky employees and that the ski area was trespassing. Moonlight Basin has denied the charges.

Hohne said he's heard nothing about the suit since it was filed but added that it would not affect the building of Moonlight's new lift.

Details

The Big Sky Golf Course is scheduled to open today, about a month ahead of schedule. Early fees will be reduced to $25 for 18 holes and $15 for nine holes. Course hours are from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week. For more information, contact the course at 995-5780.

on the net

Spanish Peaks Resort www.spanish-peaks.com

Moonlight Basin www.moonlightbasin.com

Big Sky Resort www.bigskyresort.com

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Club pays penalty but opts against EIS

Associated Press, Billings Gazette, June 6, 2004.

The Yellowstone Mountain Club chose to pay $31,000 more than its set penalty of $200,000 when given a list of environmental projects to support, including a $200,000 Environmental Impact Statement.

The club was fined for allegedly violating state water law during construction of a golf course, roads, and ski runs at the members-only club owned by Tim Blixseth. The club has admitted to no liability, but agreed to the payment.

The Department of Environmental Quality calculated a penalty of $200,000, which would normally go directly to the state's general fund. However, state law allows alleged violators to pay for specific projects approved by the DEQ.

The DEQ gave the club a list of projects, said John Arrigo, administrator of the DEQ's enforcement division. The club chose to pay for a $155,000 glass pulverizer and a $76,000 cash penalty, opting not to choose the EIS that was on the list of projects.

The glass pulverizer is portable, allowing it to travel around the state and convert waste glass into material usable in asphalt paving, landscaping, and other projects. It will help keep landfills from filling up as quickly, Arrigo said.

Rep. Chris Harris, D-Bozeman, said he wanted the club to pay for the EIS on the upper Gallatin River.

"It makes absolute perfect sense to have the EIS funded," he said.

The EIS would examine, among other things, the relationship between groundwater and surface water in the upper Gallatin.

The Montana Board of Environmental Review mandated the study as part of the process of designating the Gallatin as "Outstanding Resource Water."

But no money was ever set aside to pay for the $200,000 EIS, so the area cannot receive the special status.

###

 

DEQ questioned about settlement

Associated Press, Billings Gazette, July 20, 2004

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality faced tough questioning from a state oversight board Monday regarding a settlement with a Big Sky developer accused of violating state water law.

The Environmental Quality Council's Agency Oversight Committee asked DEQ director Jan Sensibaugh why the agency's settlement with Yellowstone Mountain Club didn't lead to funding for an environmental study on the potential effects of stricter protections for the Gallatin River.

The study was ordered by the Board of Environmental Review in March 2002.

It must be completed as part of the process to have the Gallatin designated as an "Outstanding Resource Water." Advocates have been trying to get the protection for the river since 2001, but the state has so far not funded the EIS.

Rob Ament, director of American Wildlands, said the recent settlement was just another in a string of decisions the DEQ has made to avoid paying for the study.

The Yellowstone Mountain Club, an exclusive multimillion-dollar development owned by Tim Blixseth, was accused of polluting tributaries of the Gallatin River during construction of a golf course, roads and ski runs.

The DEQ originally proposed fines of more than $1.3 million. Under a June settlement in which it did not admit any wrongdoing, the club agreed to pay $231,000. The settlement allowed the club to designate that the money be used to purchase a special glass pulverizer as part of another environmental project to recycle glass around the state.

Some proponents have said the money collected from the club should have been used to help fund the Gallatin River EIS, estimated to cost at least $200,000.

Sensibaugh said that under guidelines set out by the Environmental Protection Agency, a company may choose to pay for a project as part of a settlement of violations. That choice costs more than an outright penalty, which would go into the state general fund.

DEQ has little power to dictate which project a company chooses, Sensibaugh said.

"If we mandated to Yellowstone Mountain Club that they had to do this (the EIS), they have the legal right to say no," Sensibaugh said.

However, committee members questioned why the DEQ did not follow an EPA guideline that such a project should have some direct relationship to the alleged violations.

Sensibaugh said that's one area where DEQ deviates from the Environmental Protection Agency guidelines.

"There's no connection at all between these violations and this project," committee member Howard Strause said. "I find this troubling when we have a project that would perfectly mesh with these violations."

The chair of the committee, Rep. Chris Harris, D-Bozeman, also questioned whether the DEQ prepared a legal analysis, as recommended by the EPA, after the club selected a project not related to its alleged violations. Sensibaugh said it had not.

Harris asked what steps DEQ took to notify the public of the proposed project, another guideline in the EPA. Sensibaugh said she knew of none.

Sen. Mike Wheat, D-Bozeman, another committee member, said the threat of more than $1 million in penalties should have been used to direct the company to pay for the EIS.

"I would think that could have been the hammer DEQ used to require the environmental impact statement," Wheat said.

The committee asked Sensibaugh to come to its September meeting with a written policy that DEQ would prefer to follow regarding supplemental environmental projects. Harris said decisions to deviate from guidelines on a case-by-case basis are unfair.

"If one violator has to adhere to the policy in terms of public hearings and nexus, and the next one doesn't, that just, I think, breeds a certain contempt for government in general," Harris said.

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Yellowstone Club agrees to record fines

By SCOTT McMILLION, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, August 10, 2004

Yellowstone Mountain Club developer Tim Blixseth has agreed to pay a record-breaking penalty of $1.8 million for allegedly violating federal environmental laws at his millionaires-only resort south of Big Sky.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice announced the penalty Monday. Blixseth admits to no guilt, but has agreed to pay the money, plus repair damaged wetlands or create new ones on the property.

The settlement must be approved by a federal judge, after a public comment period.

The alleged violations took place in 2001 and earlier, according to Kris Knutson, an environmental scientist with EPA, and consisted of dumping fill or dredge material in federally protected wetlands and streams on a golf course and the Pioneer Mountain ski runs.

There also were serious erosion problems, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Leif Johnson.

"We have pictures and videos of erosion gullies four or five feet deep" on the ski hill, Johnson said Monday. "All that goes in the Gallatin River."

Downstream fish, aquatic life and river users are affected by that pollution.

Johnson said there were at least 60 violations on the sprawling property. The $1.8 million penalty is the largest ever assessed for this type of wetlands violation, Johnson said.

Knutson said the size of the penalty was calculated based on the knowledge club officials had of federal laws, the money they made by proceeding without permits and other factors.

Knutson said Blixseth met with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials in 1996 to discuss permits the club needed.

"It shows awareness on their part of needing to get permits," she said Monday.

"We look forward to [Yellowstone Mountain Club] becoming a responsible corporate citizen and an advocate for the protection of Montana's wonderful natural resources," U.S. Attorney Bill Mercer said in a press release.

Yellowstone Mountain Club advertises Montana's natural amenities on its Web site stating "It's the dazzling Montana countryside that defines Yellowstone Club," and urging people to imagine "miles of snow chilled streams, along with hundreds of wild rainbow trout all to yourself."

Mercer said he wants developers to know "they had better ensure compliance before rather than after development has begun."

Steve Brown, Blixseth's lawyer on this matter, stressed that no guilt has been admitted. He said there was disagreement over what constituted a violation, but his client decided not to go to court.

As in many cases, "you have to decide if it's better to settle or better to litigate," Brown said.

The parties have been negotiating a settlement for over a year. In addition to the penalty, Yellowstone Mountain Club must repair damages on at least 60 sites, if possible, and if it can't be done, the lost wetlands must be replaced elsewhere on the property.

That will require hiring hydrologists, botanists and other specialists to make sure the wetlands can perform their function of filtering water for downstream humans and wildlife, Johnson said. It's a big job in an alpine environment, he noted.

The plans for that work fill several hundred pages, Brown said.

The club also must pay for a specialist to monitor that work for the next five years.

Blixseth earlier this summer agreed to pay the state of Montana $231,000 to settle accusations of polluting streams that feed the Gallatin River. Blixseth did not admit to any guilt in that case either.

Blixseth opened The Yellowstone Club after consolidating his holdings in the Big Sky area by trading land with the federal government in 1998.

Along with some partners, in 1992 he had purchased 160,000 acres from Plum Creek Timber Co., property that had been scattered in a checkerboard pattern across the Gallatin National Forest.

Only members, guests and employees are allowed past the gate at the 13,400-acre club, and prospective members need to prove they are worth at least $3 million.

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Exclusive resort fined $1.8 million

Associated Press, Billings Gazette, August 10, 2004

HELENA (AP) - A gated resort community near Big Sky that sells homesites only to multimillionaires will pay $1.8 million in penalties and complete a string of environmental restoration projects to settle complaints that it violated the federal Clean Water Act, the U.S. attorney's office said Monday.

The Yellowstone Mountain Club, owned by developer Tim Blixseth, was accused in 2001 of dumping dredge and fill material from a construction site into waterways and federally protected wetlands. Earlier this summer, the club settled separate state allegations that it dumped fill and dredge materials into a tributary of the Gallatin River.

Bill Mercer, U.S. attorney for Montana, said in a written statement that the $1.8 million civil penalty is believed to be the largest ever collected by the Environmental Protection Agency in a settlement of unauthorized discharge of such material into wetlands. He said the agreement avoided the "risk and expense of protracted litigation of some very complex issues."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Leif Johnson of Billings said the agreement was the end product of an extensive and expensive investigation into the allegations.

"As you know, this isn't a development that you just walk into," he said. "Just the challenges alone of accommodating the club's private property rights with the public's interest in making sure these violations were addressed was difficult."

Steve Brown, an attorney for the club, said Monday that the settlement is not an admission that the club or Blixseth did anything improper.

"The club has denied liability but is entering into this settlement," he said "We've been working with the federal government for about three years now to address their concerns."

The Yellowstone Mountain Club is a 13,000-acre gated, multimillion-dollar resort development adjacent to the Big Sky ski resort in southern Montana near Yellowstone National Park.

Prospective members must have a net worth of at least $3 million, and are required to pay a $250,000 initiation fee and annual dues of $16,000. The club features homes with starting price tags of $5 million, an 18-hole golf course and a private ski slope.

The EPA filed 60 separate Clean Water Act violations against the club, alleging that material from a construction site was dumped into waterways and wetlands, damaging both.

Under the settlement, the club agreed, among other things, to replace lost wetlands, repair others that were damaged, replace culverts and pay for an independent contractor for five years to monitor the club's restoration activities.

The agreement is subject to public comment and must still be approved by a federal judge, the EPA said. It was not immediately clear when that would occur.

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Yellowstone Club developer to pay $1.8 million fine for alleged wetlands violations

By Patrick Davis, Lone Peak Lookout, Aug 12, 2004

http://www.lonepeaklookout.com/articles/2004/08/12/news/local_headlines/news1.txt

Yellowstone Club developer Tim Blixseth has agreed to pay a $1.8 million fine in a settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency for alleged wetlands violations.

The settlement, which still needs final approval from a federal judge after a public comment period, was reached Monday after three years of negotiations and stipulates that the Yellowstone Club will have to restore five acres of damaged wetlands along the exclusive millionaire club's Big Sky property and reconstruct 1.5 acres of new wetland habitat where repair is impossible. New culverts will also have to be installed where roads cross streams in order to allow fish to pass upstream. EPA scientists will monitor the progress of reparations at the club for at least the next five years.

The EPA first accused the Yellowstone Club of violating the Clean Water Act in 2000. According to John Wardell, director of Montana's EPA office in Helena, there were "up to 60 separate violations" on the Yellowstone Club site.

"They placed fill in (federally protected) wetlands, and where properties went up, dredged materials were dumped into streams," Wardell said. "We think the violations are serious enough to warrant the large fine."

To some extent, Stephen Ross Brown, a Missoula attorney representing Blixseth, agreed.

"Ultimately, the Yellowstone Club feels this settlement is in their best interest, and the United States does too," Brown said. "The Yellowstone Club is committed to environmental compliance in the future."

In addition to the alleged dumping, there was also severe erosion along a ski hill that could channel pollutants downstream into the Gallatin River, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Leif Johnson.

"Our goal is to protect the watershed and try to prevent high sediment loads from being dumped into streams," Johnson said. "Regulations are set up so contractors and developers will seek the necessary permits, so negative impacts on the environment can be avoided. It's better to have the government on board when doing work around waters of the U.S."

Brown said the alleged violations occured "due to different interpretations of how the rules apply."

"This was very early on in the construction, it's nothing recent," he added. "The Yellowstone Club has not admitted to the violations. There were no concessions of wrongdoings. We want to put this behind us and move on."

The confusion over the application of environmental laws and building permits may have occurred before construction at the Yellowstone Club began, according to Kris Knutson, an environmental biologist for the EPA. Knutson said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers visited the property with Blixseth in August of 1995, after the private ski hill and golf course were proposed.

Knutson said a Corps representative met with Blixseth again in 1996 to discuss Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, which regulates the dumping of dredge or fill material into U.S. waters.

"They would say they didn't know," Knutson said. "Our position is they should have known. There was plenty of information provided to (Blixseth) and his attorney to make them aware."

By settling the case, Blixseth avoided a trial in a federal court, where more serious sanctions could have resulted. The $1.8 million fine is the largest ever for such wetlands violations.

Earlier this summer, Blixseth agreed to pay the state of Montana $231,000 to settle accusations by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality that the Yellowstone Club had violated state water law and was polluting streams that feed the Gallatin River. He also admitted no wrongdoing in that case.

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Suit dismissed over land ownership

Associated Press, Billings Gazette, August 14, 2004

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed against the U.S. Forest Service in a dispute over ownership of a patch of ice and rock atop Lone Peak, U.S. Attorney Bill Mercer said Friday.

U.S. District Judge Richard F. Cebull granted a motion by the federal government to dismiss the case filed last year by developer Tim Blixseth, Mercer said.

In his ruling, Cebull said Moonlight Basin, a new ski resort, has existing rights to the peak over Blixseth's members-only Yellowstone Mountain Club.

Blixseth had claimed that the land belonged to him as part of the Big Sky Lumber land swaps, authorized by two acts of Congress, the latest in 1998.

He said the land could support a ski lift and was worth a fortune.

Cebull said the court determined that a patent had been issued to Moonlight Basin before the land swaps were authorized, giving it domain in the dispute. Because the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, which deeded the land to the resort, no longer had title to the property, Blixseth's lawsuit was moot and, therefore, dismissed, Mercer said.

The boundaries of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge and Gallatin national forests, as well as the Lee Metcalf Wilderness area, all converge near the top of the 11,166-foot mountain.

Blixseth had been trying to buy the nearby Big Sky Ski and Summer Resort from the Boyne Corp. when the litigation was filed, and also owns property near the summit.

He said building a lift there would let him advertise 4,000 feet of vertical drop for his private resort, as well as add about $200,000 to the value of each of the 725 lots he still had for sale at the Yellowstone Club - totaling more than $140 million in increased real estate value.

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Blixseth cleanup deal has some teeth

By SCOTT McMILLION, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, August 25, 2004

In addition to paying a $1.8 million penalty for alleged environmental offenses, Yellowstone Mountain Club owner Tim Blixseth must clean up much of the damage his workers caused there.

The specific terms of the cleanup are spelled out in a recently released settlement document called a consent decree. "Any failure to comply with any term of condition of this consent decree" could result in fines of up to $6,000 for each day a violation continues.

Plus, Blixseth must pay up to $115,000 for an expert selected by the federal Environmental Protection Agency to oversee the repair job.

Furthermore, if the EPA has to take the club to court to enforce an action, and if it wins, the club must pay the government's legal fees.

Blixseth has admitted no guilt. But he has agreed to the conditions and the penalty -- the biggest in history for this type of violation.

The club, a millionaires-only gated community south of Big Sky with private golf and skiing, extensive housing and commercial developments, was accused in 2001 of violating the federal Clean Water Act by dumping dredge and fill material into wetlands and streams.

A total of two miles of streams and 10 acres of wetlands in the high-altitude area were damaged, the settlement documents say. Blixseth's companies "conducted, contracted for, supervised and/or otherwise controlled the unauthorized activities."

It's possible to manipulate streams and wetlands legally, but it takes a lot of time and paperwork to do so.

U.S. Attorney Leif Johnson said Blixseth was charged with more than 60 violations.

The documents released this week say the violations went back to 1997 and that Blixseth obtained only nine permits, seven of which were suspended "due to the scope of impacts associated with the YMC development."

The club must restore 5 acres of wetlands and "mitigate" another 1.5 acres of wetlands and channels.

Mitigation "basically means creating wetlands" to offset damages, according to Steve Brown, Blixseth's lawyer in Missoula on this issue. He said he doesn't know how much the work will cost.

In addition to the on-site inspector, EPA officials can enter the club at any time for further inspection with 24 hours notice, the consent decree says.

Brown said his client fully intends to comply with all the stipulations.

"The work has already started on some of these sites," Brown said Tuesday.

Wetlands restoration is a complex task, Johnson said last week, and the work is outlined in 372 pages of technical documents accompanying the consent decree.

The public has 30 days to comment on the consent decree, and the federal government reserves the right to back out of the deal if those comments disclose facts or considerations which lead it to conclude that the judgment was inappropriate or inadequate.

American Wildlands, a Bozeman-based environmental group that has followed the developments for a few years, commended the EPA "for not buckling under pressure" and for "imposing a fine appropriate to the damage done."

But the group also maintained the "restoration work will affect everyone who lives downstream from the club" and called for an environmental impact statement to outline the scope of the work.

Once a judge signs the documents, Blixseth has 45 days to pay the $1.8 million fine.

The consent decree and related documents can be seen on the Internet at http://www.usdoj.gov/enrd/open.html

Scott McMillion is at scottm@dailychronicle.com

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Travel club for the rich planned

Associated Press, Billings Gazette, August 26, 2005

Tim Blixseth, owner of the exclusive Yellowstone Club near Big Sky, is bringing the timeshare concept to the rich and famous, promising exclusive vacations around the world to people willing to pay between $4 million and $10 million to join.

Members will have private access to yachts and jets, European castles, a Tuscan villa, exclusive Alaska fishing and the only private golfing in St. Andrews, Scotland - a course Blixseth says he plans to build.

There could even be a private island or two in the offing, he said.

Memberships in the Yellowstone Club World cost $4 million for the first 25 buyers, Blixseth said. The price goes up another $1 million for the next 25 memberships, and another $1 million for the 25 memberships after that, until the project is sold out. The last 25 buyers would pay $10 million.

Blixseth said he's confident about the new venture.

"There are lots of people waiting in line with checkbooks," he said.

In addition to the membership fees, buyers would have to pay as much as $100,000 a year for dues, plus operating costs for the jets and yachts.

He said he expects to raise $1 billion with membership sales and is buying properties around the world.

"We're buying the very best one-of-a-kinds you can think of," he said.

A number of companies offer exclusive, high-end vacations, but Blixseth's planned offering is several times more expensive than the competition.

This isn't Blixseth's first foray into offering exclusive properties to the ultra-rich.

In 2000, Blixseth opened The Yellowstone Club, a ski and golf resort, just south of Big Sky. Prospective members must have a net worth of at least $3 million.

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Timber tycoon developer now owns chunk of Idaho

Round Valley neighbors unhappy with clearcutting

By Rocky Barker

The Idaho Statesman, Sept 13, 2005

Tim Blixseth, the new owner of 180,000 acres of Idaho timberland, says he wants to be a good neighbor.

Blixseth has plans to trade tens of thousands of acres of former Boise Cascade lands in the Payette River canyon to protect one of the state's most familiar scenic treasures.

Blixseth also has bought a place in downtown Boise and plans to hold on indefinitely to the large tree farm spread across south-central Idaho from Weiser to New Meadows to McCall, Cascade and southeast to around Idaho City.

"I've had many chances to sell the Idaho tree farm for a good premium," Blixseth said. "I told them it's not for sale."

But he has a lot of talking to do if he's going to convince Ed Wood of his good intentions. Loggers are clearcutting Blixseth's land next to Wood's Round Valley ranch. Wood, a 20-year resident, is skeptical Blixseth won't cut off the trees and build subdivisions.

The former Boise Cascade lands have always been open to hunters and recreation use. But much of the land could be valuable for development, especially in Valley County near the new Tamarack Resort, where land values have skyrocketed.

Blixseth says Idahoans shouldn't worry.

"We're not interested in selling property and will probably buy even more property," Blixseth said. "Development is a long way away."

Blixseth, 54, is the developer of the Yellowstone Club near Big Sky in Montana, a private golf and ski resort development marketed to people with a net worth of $3 million or more. He has bought and sold hundreds of thousands of acres of timberland in the past 20 years in the Pacific Northwest and Montana for logging, development and conservation.

Blixseth had wanted Boise Cascade land for years

Blixseth bought the land from Forest Capital Partners in March, only seven weeks after the Boston-based company bought all of Boise Cascade's approximately 2.2 million acres of timberland in Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Alabama, Louisiana and Minnesota for $1.65 billion in cash. Blixseth had attempted to buy the land from Boise Cascade for three years. He even made a play to buy the entire wood products company but was outbid by current owner Madison Dearborn.

He also bought 195,000 acres in Washington as a part of the deal with Forest Capital. He plans a 175,000-acre land trade with the state of Washington this week that will turn over much of that timberland to the state.

The initial sale from Boise Cascade gained national media coverage. But since both Forest Capital and Blixseth's company, Western Pacific Timberlands, are private, they did not make public announcements about their deal.

"We don't do press releases on all of our transactions," said Scott Jones, co-president of Forest Capital Partners, which still owns 280,000 acres in northern Idaho.

Sound of chainsaws heralded change

Wood is skeptical of Blixseth's neighborliness because Boise Cascade had not done clearcutting around him during the 20 years since he moved to Round Valley.

"The first time we knew anything was happening we heard chainsaws and tree processors," said Wood. "When we saw what on God's Earth was going on, we were outraged."

He is not convinced about the need for clearcutting or about the company's commitment to sustainable forestry.

Steve Gurnsey, land manager for Western Pacific Timberlands, said he's using the same forest prescription Boise Cascade did. He was Boise Cascade's manager of the same lands.

The clearcut is necessary because of beetles that are killing the white fir that dominates the stand of trees, said Gurnsey. He plans to replant the area in ponderosa pine, Douglas fir and larch.

"Right now the forest is dying faster than it's growing," Gurnsey said.

One difference from Boise Cascade's management is that the lands are no longer certified through the Sustained Forestry Initiative (SFI). Certification required extensive record-keeping and regular inspections by a third party. Gurnsey doesn't think the cost is justified.

But Forest Capital's Jones said he considers certification necessary.

"We are long-term timber operators," Jones said. "We believe SFI is consistent with good stewardship. It's how we do business."

Blixseth defers to his forester Gurnsey on the issue.

"I don't know much about it," Blixseth said. "I do know we're doing sustained yield forestry. We may even cut less timber than Boise."

Conservation opportunities

Blixseth sees several conservation opportunities for land trades with the U.S. Forest Service and the Idaho Department of Lands. In addition to the Payette River corridor, he owns 10,000 acres on the back side of West Mountain — where Tamarack is located — that he thinks has scenic value and should be owned by the Forest Service.

He also wants to buy another unnamed tract that, when combined with some of his land, would fit into the Boise or Payette national forests. Overall, he could trade up to 115,000 acres to consolidate his holdings and meet public needs, he said.

That fits his record. In addition to the Washington land swap planned this week, he previously made land swaps in Washington, Oregon and Montana with the federal government. In the '90s, Blixseth purchased 164,000 acres of Plum Creek timber lands scattered throughout the Gallatin National Forest.

He proposed building a ski resort in the heart of the most valuable wildlife habitat north of Yellowstone National Park. After negotiations with the federal government and environmentalists, he agreed to sell and exchange 100,000 acres to the Forest Service, keeping the developable land near Big Sky — 22 square miles.

Bart Koehler, now with the Wilderness Society in Durango, Colo., negotiated with Blixseth on the Gallatin deals for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, and he found him very savvy.

"Tim is a very capable person," Koehler said. "He's capable of making a lot of money in very smart ways, and he's very capable of reaching agreements that result in rock-solid conservation that will last over time."

Idaho Sen. Brad Little, R-Emmett, grazes cattle on some of Blixseth's land but has not yet met him. But Little wonders what Blixseth ultimately seeks in Idaho.

"He's got something he wants, if he has in mind a land trade," Little said.

A club for millionaires

In Montana, Blixseth's dream was the Porcupine ski resort he planned on lands he sold to the Forest Service. On the land he kept, he built the Yellowstone Club, billed as the world's first private ski and golf resort. Blixseth requires prospective members to prove a net worth of $3 million or more before paying a $250,000 initiation fee and $16,000 in yearly dues.

In addition to skiing, the club includes an 18-hole championship golf course, club house, ski lodge, tennis courts, equestrian center, health and fitness facilities, hiking trails, wilderness cabins, a lake for fly fishing and private home sites.

While building the resort, Blixseth violated federal and state water quality laws designed to keep sediment out of rivers and streams, resulting in fines exceeding $2 million.

Blixseth said he has ordered Gurnsey and his Idaho team to avoid "a single violation."

His latest dream is Yellowstone Club World, a global resort club with properties already in St. Andrew's, Scotland, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and Alaska. He eventually wants to buy resort properties around the world for use exclusively by his members. The membership fee is on a sliding scale up to $10 million.

Idaho's land has an uncertain future

Little hopes most of Blixseth's Idaho lands remain in sustainable forestry and eventually help attract a new timber industry in the region that can help the Forest Service thin and manage its forests. Wood, Blixseth's Round Valley neighbor, also wants to see the forest tracts remain intact, to continue as important wildlife habitat and beautiful scenery.

"This is a recreation treasure for Idaho," Wood said.

Blixseth said his intention is to manage the land for timber, but acknowledges he didn't buy the land simply to protect the Payette corridor.

"It does take quite a bit of money to buy these things," Blixseth said. "There has to be an up side for me."

-----

Who is Tim Blixseth?

Tim Blixseth started life as the son of a disabled preacher on welfare in Roseburg, Ore., the youngest of five children. He worked in grocery stores and lumber mills through high school before unsuccessfully seeking a career in hollywood as a singer and songwriter.

Blixseth got into the business of buying timberland by putting down $1,000 as earnest money on 360 acres for $90,000 he had to pay in 30 days. He went to the major timber company in the area and sold the land to it for a $50,000 profit.

By the early 1980s, he had made millions but got overextended and went bankrupt in 1981.

He started over and in 1988 started Crown Pacific with a partner. Crown Pacific bought more than 250,000 acres of timberland in northern Idaho and Oregon and later 194,000 acres from Scott Paper Co. Blixseth sold out his share in 1990 and with two brothers, Norm and Mel McDougall, bought 164,000 acres of timberlands in Montana from Plum Creek.

After two federal bills that approved land sales and trades, he started the Yellowstone Club and now the Yellowstone Club World with his wife, Edra. She was the operating partner of a hotel and restaurant company and owned seven other restaurants. They raised four children.

Edra Blixseth also is the author of the book "Uncharged Batteries." A center in Palm Springs for women and children suffering from abuse is named after her.

Tim Blixseth kept his musical dream alive by writing and recording a song in 2001, "Pray for Peace," to raise money for victims of the 9/11 attacks. He founded and heads Friday Records.

He lives mostly in Montana and Rancho Mirage, Calif., where he also has a private golf course on a 240-acre retreat 10 miles from Palm Springs. He also has a penthouse at The Grove in Boise.

"I love Boise's downtown," Blixseth said.

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Montana tycoon adds to Idaho acreage

Associated Press, Billings Gazette, December 26, 2005

A Montana timber tycoon and luxury-resort developer who a decade ago engineered federal land swaps that helped turn him into a billionaire recently added 40,000 acres of Idaho forest to his holdings.

"It's awful nice property there," Tim Blixseth, who bought the acreage near Powell on the Idaho-Montana border from Seattle-based Plum Creek Timber Co., told the Lewiston Tribune. "It could yield some revenue, and it's also a candidate for exchange."

He said the land could one day become part of another trade with the U.S. government.

Blixseth, who according to Forbes magazine is the 346th richest American with about $1 billion, said he has no definite plans for the property, which explorers Lewis and Clark likely crossed during their historic trek to the Pacific Ocean 200 years ago.

In 1992, Blixseth was among a group that bought more than 160,000 acres of Plum Creek land, for about $140 an acre, that he eventually turned over to the U.S. Forest Service. That helped clear the way for his 21-square-mile Yellowstone Club near Big Sky, Mont., where lots sell for a minimum $1 million an acre and prospective members must prove they're worth at least $3 million.

Together with 200,000 acres in Central Idaho timber holdings including parcels near the new Tamarack Resort in Donnelly, Blixseth could use his latest acquisition to convince the federal government to give him land elsewhere that would be more suitable for development.

The land near Powell includes 640-acre parcels in a checkerboard pattern intermixed with federal parcels that are currently managed by the Clearwater National Forest.

"Maybe we can put an exchange together on all those lands and square up some property lines," said Blixseth, whose company is called Western Pacific Timberlands. "If not, I like owning land."

He didn't say what he paid for the forest land.

Blixseth, already in the midst of a 100,000-acre land trade in Washington state involving state-managed land, said the Powell lands probably won't be turned into a resort akin to his tony Montana development.

Some of the Idaho land includes areas visited by the Lewis and Clark Expedition, such as the so-called "13-Mile Camp" on the Lolo Trail that's documented in historical accounts.

It may even include the site where the expedition took a wrong turn as it slogged westward, said Jim Fazio, a University of Idaho forestry professor in Moscow and author of a book on the expedition.

"It's a beautiful meadow site much untouched as far as the environment," Fazio said. "That is one I have always had my eye on for public ownership."

A spokesman for the Forest Service said the federal agency would be amenable to exchange talks.

"We would be real interested in coordinating with them and making sure we are being complementary," said Steve Kratville, a spokesman in the agency's Missoula office.

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One Mountain, Undivided

By CHRISTOPHER SOLOMON

New York Times, January 20, 2006

THIS winter the most buzzworthy event in North American skiing isn't the opening of a new chairlift or the ribbon-cutting on yet another retooled base village. No, for skiers the most intriguing news is a burying of the hatchet in the cold, deep snows of Montana.

If well-known Big Sky Resort and its newer neighbor, Moonlight Basin, which share a border and 11,166-foot Lone Mountain, had simply kissed and made up after their well-publicized spat - which reached its nadir in a lawsuit claiming that Moonlight endangered lives by misfiring avalanche-control explosives onto Big Sky's slopes, among other transgressions - the ski world would have yawned. But rapprochement was just the beginning. The resorts then saw what had been obvious to hard-charging skiers whose imaginations weren't tangled in rancor and boundary ropes: these two together could be bigger - literally - than the sum of their parts.

Skiers this winter who buy the new Lone Peak Pass can make turns on an astonishing 5,300 acres of terrain across both resorts - the most you can ride in the United States without clicking out of your bindings. (The runner-up, Vail, boasts 5,289 acres.) The combined skiing isn't just wide, it's also tall: 4,350 vertical feet. In North America only Whistler/Blackcomb, British Columbia, and Snowmass, Colo., offer more top-to-bottom skiing. The arrangement harkens to those European ski networks like the Italian Dolomites or the French Trois Vallées, in which skiers move seamlessly across several different areas, and sometimes even national borders, on unified lift passes. In this nation, only Alta/Snowbird and Solitude/Brighton, all in Utah, have similar arrangements.

What has expert skiers and snowboarders really pumped, however, is that the Lone Peak Pass finally puts the mountain's hairiest terrain under one E-ticket ride: Big Sky's ample black-diamond acreage; Moonlight Basin's Headwaters area, its tilted playground for the Red Bull-swilling crowd; and an ultrarowdy new facet of the mountain, the North Summit Snowfield, that couldn't easily have become reality without teamwork by the resorts. This dynamic duo has made it into the pantheon of "sick bird" ski hills like Jackson Hole, Blackcomb and Crested Butte, Colo., in a way that neither could quite do on its own.

"All of a sudden, it's like your car has a new gear," Reno Walsh, 33, a snowboarder with tousled surfer's hair from nearby Bozeman, said in the Carabiner Lounge at Big Sky one recent evening as he pulled on a Moose Drool ale. Under Mr. Walsh's ski bibs hung his Lone Peak Season Pass. "Everybody I know who's serious about riding" has one, he said. (A single-day Lone Peak Pass is $78 this winter, or $13 more than a single-day Big Sky ticket, and $38 more than a ticket at Moonlight, which at 1,900 acres of skiing is about half the size of Big Sky.)

To really appreciate the fruits born of this cooperation, it helps to know just how bad the blood was between the resorts even one year ago. In 1992, three partners bought 40 square miles adjacent to Big Sky, on the northern and western sides of Lone Mountain, and formed Moonlight Basin Ranch as a real-estate venture. In 1994 they struck an agreement in which Big Sky would operate chairlifts on Moonlight property, giving Moonlight's real estate ski-in, ski-out status (and therefore higher home prices), while Big Sky would benefit by being able to offer more terrain.

By 2002, however, the two companies couldn't agree on adding and operating more lifts. In January 2003, Moonlight started its own ski area, with its own lift ticket. People could still get to Big Sky from Moonlight via a shared lift along their border, but the locals' nickname for it, "Switzerland," hinted at the tension.

The relationship deteriorated. In early 2004 Big Sky's owner, Boyne USA Resorts, sued Moonlight Basin's parent company, accusing Moonlight of everything from trespassing to errantly firing avalanche-control explosives onto its terrain. Boyne asked to void the 1994 agreement, which could have meant a wall between the resorts and a drop in Moonlight's real estate values.

Then, one day last June, a surprising reconciliation took place. "We got all the key individuals in one room together, and in the course of 16 hours we went from being in complete disagreement to complete resolution, and there hasn't been a single back-step since," said Taylor Middleton, Big Sky's longtime general manager. That very day the participants brainstormed the idea of a joint pass. "Letting go of the little stuff paved the road to seeing the big stuff - and the big stuff turned out to be the biggest skiing in America," Mr. Middleton said.

IN early December, I took both resorts for a spin to gauge what skiers will get when they buy the $78 Lone Peak Pass, which is just one latte shy of the nation's priciest lift ticket. (Vail's walk-up price is $81.)

When Moonlight Basin first opened, it was part lamb, part lion. The resort offered some well-groomed but soporific terrain, some of the steepest in-bounds skiing I'd ever clung to - and little in between. The resort has since begun to round out its offerings. Many of the two dozen or so runs off the year-old Lone Tree lift are tree-skiing runs. But runs like Broken Heart and Big Tree Cutoff are gentler introductions to tree-skiing, only spiked with lodgepole pines every 25 feet or so. "We've very deliberately focused on adding some middle- to upper-intermediates and adding some advanced trees," said Burt Mills, Moonlight's general manager, as he rode the lifts one morning.

Moonlight also builds on Big Sky's reputation for uncrowded slopes. Four days after the last snowfall I still found some untracked snow for my skis to porpoise in - pretty rare at a ski resort today. Moonlight's north-facing aspect helps, too, by keeping the sun off the slopes. "The powder stays a little longer," said Will Glaus, 21, of Bozeman, explaining why he planned to buy a Moonlight season pass.

Moonlight has one other claim to fame that attracts Big Sky skiers: the Headwaters, a towering cirque that resembles the unpleasant end of an incoming fist. Striping its steep face are white runnels bearing names like Don't Tell Mama and Dead Goat (named for a normally sure-footed beast that was found at the bottom of the run). Knuckles of sharpened andesite wait to grate the flesh of a tumbler.

Previously, Moonlight skiers who coveted these steep lines had to hike anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour - only to be greeted by Big Sky's Challenger lift disgorging passengers near the ridgeline. These heaving folk would look with envy at their fresh legs. The Big Sky skiers, for their part, would look covetously across the boundary rope at the chutes they weren't allowed to ski. This winter, skiers with Lone Peak Passes can ride that Challenger Lift, pass through a gate and easily get to the first of the 16 or so Headwaters chutes.

Moonlight has installed its own Headwaters Expert Chair on its property to obviate the first part of the hike. The base of the lift was intentionally built just uphill and out of sight from Moonlight's popular Six-Shooter Lift to keep less adventurous skiers from getting on by accident. "It's a short walk," Mr. Mills said, "but it's not something Mom and Dad from out of town are going to get on by mistake."

So this is what Big Sky taps into, but what does Moonlight Basin get from Big Sky? Plenty. Despite its improvements, Moonlight by itself wouldn't hold many skiers' interest beyond a weekend. Big Sky, by comparison, is a world.

One morning Mr. Middleton, the general manager, showed off some high-angle highlights. From the tram, near the pinnacle of Lone Mountain, he dropped into Lenin, then traversed over to the Dictator Chutes. This was the steepest skiing most people would ever aspire to. Gravity tugged at everything. My early-season form got choppy, my breathing heavy. Mr. Middleton, an expert skier, stopped and pointed to a slope that turned convex and simply cascaded out of sight. Its name is Castro's. "High pucker factor," he commented of Castro's - skier's argot for a vertical situation in which losing control of certain bodily functions is quite possible. Luckily, Castro's was closed.

If caution is the theme of Lone Mountain's vertiginous above-treeline bowls and chutes, then motion defines Big Sky's other peak, Andesite Mountain. Later I joined the few skiers and snowboarders mach'ing down big groomed boulevards like Big Horn and Madison Avenue, then was whisked to the top again on several high-speed lifts. On top of Andesite, mountains seemed everywhere to prop up the big bowl of Montana sky: The prickly Spanish Peaks just to the north; the Tobacco Roots to the west; and far to the south, blue and fuzzy but still distinct, the Grand Tetons in Wyoming.

ON my last day I took the tram to see the North Summit Snowfield, a tilted patch of permanent snow on Lone Mountain's forehead that opens this winter for the first time ever thanks to the resorts' collaboration. (Skiers must ride Big Sky's mountaintop tram to access the snowfield, which spills onto Moonlight's property.)

I peered over the edge, but the flank fell away so steeply that the snowfield wasn't even visible. Later, from below, even the snowfield looked as flat as a Kansas wheatfield when compared with its exits - a half-dozen supersteep spillways with names like the Rips. They are the kind of runs where lifetime ski memories are made, and/or limbs are mangled.

Later, as we looked up at the snowfield from below, Rich Hohne, Moonlight's assistant general manager, explained that small groups that want to ski the snowfield will have to check in at the ski patrol hut with an avalanche transceiver and a shovel. "We're starting with a stricter policy because of the 'unknown' factor," Mr. Hohne said.

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Site near Cody eyed for exclusive resort

By RUFFIN PREVOST

Billings Gazette, Jan 22, 2006

A deal is in the works between a billionaire developer and local landowners that may place Cody among an exclusive group of 10 unique destinations around the world where a club of 500 wealthy families vacation and recreate.

Monster Lake, one of two private lakes on 3,248 acres south of Cody, is to be sold by local owners to Tim Blixseth, the developer behind the exclusive Yellowstone Club near Big Sky.

"The ranch is under contract to the Blixseth Group," said Melissa Fraser, who owns the Monster Lake property along with her husband, Dr. Hugh Fraser, a podiatrist with offices in Cody and Powell.

Fraser said neither she nor her husband has met Blixseth, dealing only with his representatives in the sale of the property, which was brokered through Jackson's Live Water Properties and listed at $3.8 million.

Fraser declined to disclose the final selling price and said April 1 is the expected closing date.

The property includes five homes and two lakes located just east of Highway 120 and about eight miles south of the Yellowstone Regional Airport.

Outside Cody city limits, development of the land would be subject to Park County zoning regulations and subdivision guidelines.

Blixseth is listed by Forbes magazine as America's 346th wealthiest person, with an estimated net worth of $1 billion. He amassed a fortune through timber and real estate deals, including land swaps with the

federal government.

His exclusive Yellowstone Club opened in 2000, with homes selling for a reported minimum of $5 million. The 13,000-acre gated community includes a private ski area and 18-hole golf course.

The Monster Lake property could be part of a separate development called World Club, according to Petter Barve, membership director for the Yellowstone Club.

"We're looking at incorporating it into the World Club concept," Barve said, "but we're not exactly sure of the date.

"The World Club would be a nonresidence membership into a club that entails about 10 properties spread around the world," Barve said.

The World Club would be limited to about 500 members, said Barve, with an initiation fee of $2 million or more. The club would be family friendly, and properties would be smaller than the Yellowstone Club.

"We're not looking at doing the same types of things as the Yellowstone Club," he said.

Because World Club members will not own property, only the rights to use the resorts, the venture would not involve real estate sales, and some sites might have no housing units, he said.

Other sites, including the Monster Lake property, might have about 25 homesites, he said, where members can stay while visiting the area.

A favorite spot for fly fishermen, Monster Lake is attractive for its large trout, Barve said, but Cody is special for its singular place in Western history and close proximity to Yellowstone Park.

"I think it's a place rich in the American spirit and the spirit of the West," he said. "It has that Buffalo Bill allure to it, and the museum is one of the most spectacular museums in the West."

Adding a private golf course is a possibility, Barve said, and plans for the Monster Lake property will include fishing but will also focus on Cody's regional flavor.

"What we've been talking about doing is maybe having a little bit more of the ‘Wild West' motif," he said. "But with no intention of overdoing it or making it into a Disneyland type property.

"We're going to try to stay with a low-key profile," he said. "I know our members want to have it that way, and these properties need to be in that light. It's not going to be a high-density development."

Other World Club destinations likely will include properties in Europe, Mexico, the Caribbean, and the South Pacific, he said. A private golf course is slated for property at St. Andrew's in Scotland.

But as for World Club destinations in the Rockies, "Cody is kind of it for now," Barve said.

Though the World Club will cater to "someone who has money and means but doesn't necessarily want to own the property," Barve said, it will also be geared toward families and children.

"That's what we've succeeded in doing at Yellowstone Club," he said, "and it sells itself due to the community. Tim used to say, ‘Leave your ego outside the gate,' and it's true."

Barve said final decisions have not been made about all the World Club properties and Monster Lake ultimately might not fit in with the project's master plan. He said final details would be forthcoming in about two months.

If developed as part of a World Club destination, the Monster Lake property would be transformed into a high-end resort unlike any in Cody, including the Copperleaf development planned near Wapiti.

"This confirms what we've been saying all along, that Cody is a place where people want to come," said Copperleaf developer Bob Kudelski. "People are discovering Cody."

Kudelski said he was happy to hear of plans for the possible World Club property and he did not see the development as likely competition for Copperleaf.

"Holy moly," said Cody Mayor Roger Sedam upon first hearing of the planned development. "When I was a kid, I used to fish out there.

"It's great to see Cody is in that class of pristine areas," Sedam said. "On the other hand, we don't want to lose that pristine aspect of the area."

In August 2004, the Yellowstone Club agreed to pay a $1.8 million fine levied by the Environmental Protection Agency for alleged violations of the federal Clean Water Act.

The resort was accused of dumping dredge and fill material from construction areas into federally protected wetlands.

In June 2004, the resort paid $231,000 as a separate penalty for alleged violations of Montana water protection laws.

Barve said any development at Monster Lake would be carefully planned and executed.

"We will do whatever it takes to make sure it is done right in terms of the environment, absolutely," Barve said.

"I am assuming that they will be good stewards of the land," Fraser said.

"We have certainly tried to," she said. "We did a lot of cleanup and lot of weed control after we got hold of the property. We tried to make it better for our having been here.

"It would always be nice to see that continue," Fraser said, "but when you sell something, you really don't have control over it once it goes to someone else."

Fraser said she knew of no existing conservation easements that might limit or restrict development of the Monster Lake property.

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Democrats miss deadline for filing campaign finance report

By MATT GOURAS

Associated Press, Billings Gazette, February 1, 2006

The state Democratic Party, which has been running advertisements critical of Republican Sen. Conrad Burns, missed a deadline this week for disclosing fundraising and spending with state regulators.

The Republican Party reported raising more than $500,000 last year in disclosures filed with the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices at Tuesday's deadline.

But no report was available as of Wednesday afternoon for the state Democrats.

Democrats said they were dealing with a computer glitch and hoped to have the reports to regulators soon.

"We absolutely will disclose all of our contributions," said party spokeswoman Jessica Rhoades.

Democrats launched television ads last year, getting an early start in the election cycle and putting pressure on Burns over his alleged ties with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The commercials criticize Burns for campaign donations linked to Abramoff and his clients.

"It's completely hypocritical," said Chuck Denowh, the executive director of the Montana Republican Party. "They are pointing fingers at Sen. Burns and the source of his campaign money, and at the same time they are not disclosing where their money is coming from."

Denowh said the missed deadline could be "incompetence" by the Democrats, or "maybe they didn't file it because they didn't want people to know where their money is coming from."

Rhoades disputed the claim, and dismissed the Republican criticism.

"I think this is a desperate attempt to shift attention away from the Conrad Burns ethics scandal," she said.

The state Commissioner of Political Practices, Gordon Higgins, said he suspects the Democratic Party will file its report before it faces the potential consequence of a civil lawsuit. But even though the party won't end up being penalized, he said it's important for such groups to file on time.

"The timeliness issue is pretty serious," he said. "The public has a right to know who is influencing the election process."

State law required political parties and action committees to file detailed reports for their 2005 fundraising and expenditures by Jan. 31.

Democrats said they file a report every six months with the FEC, including a year-end filing made this week.

The Republican state report filed Tuesday showed that the GOP started 2005 with about $30,000, raised $526,932 and spent $384,695. That left the Republicans with $172,712 heading into the election year.

Some of the biggest sources of money included the "Siebel PAC," which gave the Republicans more than $100,000. The PAC is linked to Siebel Systems and its wealthy founder Tom Siebel.

Another big donor was wealthy developer Tim Blixseth, who has developed such projects as the exclusive Yellowstone Club near Big Sky. He gave the Republicans $10,000.

Denowh said the party got 84 percent of its money from in-state donations. The state party also received more than $60,000 from the Republican National Committee.

A number of political action committees missed the Jan. 31 state deadline, but none more noteworthy than the state Democratic Party.

Montanans will be electing 125 state legislators this year on a ballot that will be topped by Burns' re-election effort and incumbent U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg's race.

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Burns to host fundraiser at club for rich

By JENNIFER MCKEE

Billings Gazette, February 10, 2006.

Republican Sen. Conrad Burns is hosting a fundraiser next month at the exclusive Yellowstone Club, a high-end gated community near Big Sky for which members must have at least $3 million in assets to join.

An invitation for the event called Burns Winterfest '06 lists the price for admission at $2,000 a person or $4,000 for a political action committee.

The Yellowstone Club is a 13,000-acre gated, multimillion-dollar resort development adjacent to the Big Sky ski resort in southern Montana near Yellowstone National Park. Prospective members must have a net worth of at least $3 million and are required to pay a $250,000 initiation fee and annual dues of $16,000, the Associated Press has reported. The club features homes with starting price tags of $5 million, an 18-hole golf course and a private ski slope.

The current edition of Fortune magazine, which has an article on the club, reports that the club's founder, lumber baron Tim Blixseth, and his wife personally approve all the club's admissions.

A marketing director for the Yellowstone Club did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Jason Klindt, a spokesman for the Burns campaign, could not offer details on the fundraiser or why Burns chose to have a fundraiser at the gated community.

"You can expect this campaign to continue to raise the funds necessary to compete with out-of-state money," Klindt said. "We have the obligation to defend the senator's record of delivering for Montana."

Records show Blixseth has donated $5,475 to Burns or his political action committees since 2002. He also donated $10,000 to the Montana Republican Party last October, records show.

The club's Web site describes the gated community as the world's only private ski and golf club.

The political journal Roll Call reported last year that Burns distributed a solicitation last March encouraging donors to give $4,000 per person or $10,000 per political action committee to his 2006 campaign. In exchange, donors were invited to choose from among several trips, including Burns Winterfest.

Burns' fundraiser comes just a month after Democrat Sen. Max Baucus hosted a fundraiser at Big Sky Ski Resort, a public ski mountain and resort that includes some luxury homes. Baucus' event, called the Ski and Snowmobile Weekend, asked attendees to pay $2,000 a person or $5,000 for a political action committee to Baucus' political action committee, Glacier PAC.

Baucus spokesman Barrett Kaiser said attendees were responsible for their own transportation, lodging and all meals except for the two dinners organized with Baucus, who skied at Big Sky that weekend. The only organized events were the dinners, Kaiser said.

Baucus' event was held Feb. 3-5.

Dinners were held at Buck's T-4 Lodge, a restaurant at the Best Western near Big Sky, and the Cabin Bar & Grill, a restaurant at the resort.

"This is a great opportunity to showcase Montana," he said of Baucus' recent Big Sky fundraiser. "Raising money is a reality in modern-day politics."

Baucus has never held a fundraiser at the Yellowstone Club, Kaiser said.

Burns' Democratic front-runner challengers, State Auditor John Morrison and state Senate President Jon Tester, of Big Sandy, both said they'd never had a fundraiser at the Yellowstone Club.

Tester said he'd never been there or to any gated community.

"Does that apply to livestock?" he said. "I've been in lots of those."

Morrison spokesman Tom Bowen said Morrison has held a fundraiser at the Iron Horse, an exclusive gated community near Whitefish.

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Cody ranch eyed for elite resort

Yellowstone Club owner likes ties to Old West, Buffalo Bill

By RUFFIN PREVOST

Billings Gazette, March 26, 2006

CODY, Wyo. -- Though a final decision has yet to be made, executives at the Yellowstone Club in Big Sky are considering a site in Cody as one of 10 properties that would make up Yellowstone Club World.

Inspired by the Yellowstone Club, YCW would include 10 luxury resort properties, including the Yellowstone Club, where 150 members could vacation anytime, enjoying unique destinations with distinct regional character.

Developer Tim Blixseth has struck a deal to purchase the 3,248-acre Monster Lake ranch located about eight miles south of Cody. The deal is expected to close around April 1.

The property includes 100-acre Quick Lake and 280-acre Monster Lake, long a famous destination for fly-fishermen looking to land giant trout.

Petter Barve is membership director for the Yellowstone Club and the executive in charge of developing YCW.

Barve said the Monster Lake property is on the roster of possible YCW destinations, but stressed that a final decision won't be made until sometime in May, and there's no guarantee that the Cody site will be included.

Blixseth said last weekend that he thought Cody could turn out to be a great destination for YCW members, offering a location with ties to the Old West and a strong connection to Buffalo Bill Cody.

He said the property would appeal to members looking for a taste of cowboy life from the frontier days, making it a unique addition to YCW destinations.

"I can see us doing something like an old Western town or an old mining town," Blixseth said. "A cattle drive is another fun thing we could do for guests."

Blixseth said he would probably change the name of the ranch from Monster Lake to something more in keeping with Cody's history.

"And we would also love to do a great golf course there, if we can get permission," he said.

"If it happens, I think a property like that would be great for Cody," said Hamilton Bryan, a former guest ranch owner familiar with the Yellowstone Club.

"In any town, it's good to have a mix of people, and we have all different types of residents and visitors to Cody," he said. "It would raise the bar on many levels, but at the same time wouldn't really change the character of the area."

Other YCW properties under consideration reportedly include a $40 million resort on Mexico's Pacific coast, a private golf course near St. Andrew's in Scotland, a resort on the Turks and Caicos Islands, 647 acres near Palm Springs, Calif., and a 50-room castle in Ireland, complete with dungeons and secret passages.

Blixseth is going to great lengths to make sure the YCW properties fit with surrounding communities, said Brooke Draves, a Yellowstone Club staff member who will work with Barve on the new venture.

"Tim spends so much time researching even the smallest things, like tipping customs in Mexico, for our resort there," she said. "He's just making sure how we do things is culturally in line with what people in the area are expecting."

While the Yellowstone Club has drawn fire from preservationists and Montana environmental officials and has been criticized by some as elitist and exclusionary, some Big Sky locals say the property offers good jobs with top wages and benefits.

"They pay a lot more than all the other places around Big Sky," said Erin Sedmak, a bartender at the Jackass Creek Saloon in Moonlight Basin who has been skiing and working in the region for the past 15 years.

"Everybody wants to work there, and I'm trying to get a job there this summer," Sedmak said.

Barve has said any development in Cody would be on a much smaller scale than the Yellowstone Club, with only a handful of housing units and minimal impact on the community.

Draves said other resorts that are already operational will probably be launched as YCW properties before the Monster Lake ranch to allow members to take advantage of existing amenities while the Cody site is upgraded.

Plans call for YCW memberships to be offered to the public as soon as August.

In a lesson learned from the Yellowstone Club, Draves said early YCW members would be rewarded, being able to buy in for around $2 million, while the last of the 150 members could pay as much as a $10 million initiation fee.

Yearly maintenance fees are likely to be around $200,000, Draves said.

Yellowstone Club members will always have the option to buy a YCW membership at a discount off the initial $2 million price, Draves said, "up until the last of the 150 memberships are sold."

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Timber baron offers land swap with state, feds: Idaho Statesman, Apr 11, 2006

Blixseth also has opened land to hunters, campers

A California resort developer and timber baron who has acquired large swaths of Idaho forest wants to show his good intentions as he prepares to offer a land deal that would convert up to half his Idaho acreage into public lands.

Billionaire Tim Blixseth has opened 178,000 acres of his Idaho lands to public use for pennies an acre. Blixseth also has pledged to match $500,000 in donations to renovate Idaho's proposed governor's mansion, donated by fellow billionaire J.R. Simplot.

"I'm putting my money where my convictions are," Blixseth said in an interview.

Blixseth owns 217,000 acres in Idaho, land equivalent to four times the size of Boise. He is preparing to offer up to 107,000 acres of that land to the state and federal governments. In return, Blixseth seeks lands he can develop near McCall and New Meadows. He has not not yet identified tracts he wants.

He bought the vast Idaho timber lands owned by Boise Cascade and Plum Creek in 2005. He plans to keep most of the former Boise Cascade tree farm, spread from Weiser north to New Meadows and south to Idaho City, in timber production instead of development.

The lands he wants to trade include:

"I think it's the right thing to do," Blixseth said. "Two generations from now no one is going to know my name, but the animals will use the habitat and the people will have the land."

He has convinced a few Idahoans of his good faith by keeping open public access on the former Boise Cascade lands, popular especially among hunters and campers. His company, Western Pacific Timberlands, made a deal in March with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to open the tree farm at a cost of 6 cents an acre — enough to buy gates to protect timber, roads and wildlife.

"That really put him in the good-guy column with me," said Rod Davidson, a former Boise sportsman who owns a second home near Blixseth's holdings in Lake Fork. "But it doesn't mean he doesn't bear watching. He definitely wants something, and that makes people nervous."

Davidson and other critics were unhappy last year when Western Pacific clear-cut some of its land in Round Valley south of Cascade. But Blixseth said he's actually cutting less timber than Boise Cascade did.

Blixseth got into the land-trade business in the 1990s when he bought 164,000 acres of checkerboard timber lands throughout the Gallatin National Forest north of Yellowstone National Park. He cut a deal — approved by Congress — to sell and trade 100,000 acres to the Forest Service while keeping 13,400 acres of land near Big Sky.

He turned the area into the Yellowstone Club, a private ski and golf resort where members must prove they're worth at least $3 million and pay a $250,000 initiation fee and $16,000 in yearly dues over an above the cost of their land purchase.

He is closing a 100,000-acre land trade with Washington state that will protect big-game habitat with other former Boise Cascade lands he purchased.

Land trades are common, but trading to protect big private tracts requires big investments, Blixseth said. He said he's the only one willing to put up the money needed to protect large tracts like the 39,000 acres along the Lewis and Clark Trail he purchased in North Idaho. Those lands, originally granted to the Northern Pacific Railroad, are mixed into the Clearwater National Forest in the same checkerboard pattern as Blixseth's Gallatin lands.

"The idea of turning it into public land is fabulous," said Kimberly Nelson, a U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman in Orofino.

Blixseth and the Forest Service have only begun talks about the trade. Since it would include two national-forest regions and could end up in Congress, regional forest officials will lead the effort. Blixseth has not talked about lands in North Idaho he's interested in acquiring and has not revealed what he wants around McCall.

It's always easier to find lands to acquire than land that can be sold without controversy, said Dick Smith, Boise National Forest supervisor. "For every acre out there, there's someone that cares about it," Smith said.

Blixseth's business plan is simple. He buys places the public wants and offers solutions to public problems. He helped Big Sky expand its sewage-treatment facilities, which gave him the ability to develop more ground plus keep millions of gallons of pollution out of the Gallatin River — the river filmed in the movie, "A River Runs Through It."

He sees a similar opportunity in McCall, which has limited capacity in its sewage system and a moratorium on new hookups. He has land he is willing to offer to McCall so it can construct a sewage lagoon in exchange for the opportunity to develop other tracts.

"We happen to be in a position here at Western Pacific that if we spend $5 million to $10 million to lift the moratorium it's good for us and good for them," Blixseth said.

The arrival of Blixseth and other developers saddens Mary Hart, a former Valley County planning commission member and current McCall school-board member. The benefits of development are overrated, she said. And she's not convinced county and city government are prepared to protect the public interest in the face of Blixseth, Tamarack and other developers.

"What we have here in Idaho is so precious," Hart said. "I don't think we have the same interests at all."

Blixseth sees growth as inevitable. That's why, he said, he wants to place special areas under state and federal protection and develop in places that make sense. He wants to work with Idahoans to find common ground.

"If you are going to have growth, why not be sure to put it where you want?" Blixseth said.

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Tour de France winner sues Yellowstone Club, owner

Associated Press, Billings Gazette, June 3, 2006.

BOZEMAN -- Three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond is among several people suing the millionaires-only Yellowstone Club and its owner, alleging Tim Blixseth tried to buy out their investments in the club at a fraction of the value and then refused to turn over financial records so they could determine the actual value.

LeMond, his in-laws, a company they own, and a friend of LeMond's filed the lawsuit in Madison County on Wednesday. All own homes in the exclusive Yellowstone Club, a gated community south of Big Sky with many huge homes valued at $10 million or more, private golf, skiing and other amenities.

When fully occupied, the community will contain a maximum of 864 homes on 13,400 acres.

Blixseth said he was "pleased and relieved that they have filed the lawsuit. After many, many months of being threatened unless I deposit large amounts of cash in their accounts, I'm relieved that it will be resolved in a court of law by reasonable minds."

The lawsuit says LeMond, David and Sacia Morris, Sacia Enterprises and LeMond's friend Jorge V. Jasson each invested $2 million to purchase 1 percent of the Yellowstone Club in 2000.

In May 2005, Blixseth offered to buy out LeMond and the other plaintiffs, offering them each $1.25 million in cash and one undeveloped lot at the resort, valued at about $2 million.

Blixseth called it a "tremendous offer," the lawsuit says.

However, Blixseth refused the plaintiffs' request to see the club's financial records. Since LeMond and the others are part owners of the resort, Montana law says that financial records must be available to them, the lawsuit contends.

The lawsuit also maintains that at the same time Blixseth was offering to buy out LeMond and the others, he was negotiating a loan with financial giant Credit Suisse. As part of the loan arrangements, the Yellowstone Club was appraised at $1.16 billion, according to the lawsuit, meaning a 1 percent share should be worth about $11.6 million.

The lawsuit said Blixseth took out a $375 million loan, returning $209 million to The Blixseth Group Inc. for "return of capital," but nothing went to the other investors, the lawsuit says.

Blixseth had not told any of the other owners about the loan negotiations, the suit says.

"Indeed, BGI had planned to have purchased the plaintiffs' equity interests -- on the cheap -- the day before the presentation to loan subscribers," the lawsuit says.

Blixseth later withdrew his offer to buy the shares, but the plaintiffs continued to ask for the financial information.

The lawsuit says when the plaintiffs threatened to sue, BGI's lawyer said "BGI and Blixseth would take action to expel plaintiffs as members of the Yellowstone Club."

The lawsuit asks that the $209 million be fairly divided, that BGI, Yellowstone Development and Yellowstone Mountain Club provide full and complete access to financial records and that the plaintiffs be paid a fair value for their shares.

Blixseth last week launched Yellowstone Club World, which will offer millionaires exclusive access to eight posh vacation properties, like castles, islands and ranches, plus yachts and jets.

Blixseth said the initial offering of 25 memberships sold out in one day.

###

 

Monster Lake to join Yellowstone Club World

Cody, Wyo., property on final list of luxury resorts from around the world

By RUFFIN PREVOST

Billings Gazette, June 5, 2006

CODY, Wyo. -- A 3,248-acre ranch south of Cody that features two private lakes famed for trout fishing will be included with a handful of luxury properties in the exclusive Yellowstone Club World collection of destination resorts.

An offshoot of the Yellowstone Club private ski and golf community near Big Sky, Mont., Yellowstone Club World will be developed by billionaire Tim Blixseth for use by 150 member families who will each pay between $3 million and $10 million to join.

At the time of its sale in January, YCW executives were unsure whether the Monster Lake ranch in Cody would be included in a group of luxury properties where members can stay and recreate as often as they like.

But an announcement last week of a group of YCW destinations included the Monster Lake ranch, to be renamed Buffalo Bill Ranch, and scheduled to open sometime in 2008.

"Buffalo Bill Ranch will offer Yellowstone Club World members complete immersion into the quintessential 'Old West' experience," according to promotional materials from the club.

Materials say the ranch will feature "intimate rustic lodging with doorstep access to private backcountry, fishing, horseback riding, camping, hiking and hunting unlike any other dude ranch establishment in the world."

Not all properties will include home sites, and most will feature only a few dozen guest units, according to YCW executives. The sites are to be smaller in scale than Yellowstone Club.

"I can see us doing something like an old Western town or an old mining town," Blixseth had told the Gazette in March. "A cattle drive is another fun thing we could do for guests.

"And we would also love to do a great golf course there, if we can get permission," he said.

Most of the existing buildings on the Buffalo Bill Ranch property, located about eight miles south of Cody, would not be used in a newly created YCW property, Blixseth had said.

To qualify for inclusion among YCW resorts, the Buffalo Bill Ranch is likely to feature a number of high-end amenities to appeal to wealthy club members.

Details are available on seven YCW properties, including the Buffalo Bill Ranch near Cody. Others include:

* Tamarindo -- A collection of 29 thatch-roofed, seaside villas on 2,000 acres of rain forest along Mexico's Pacific coast. Each villa has its own plunge pool, and the resort features an 18-hole golf course.

* Chateau De Farcheville -- A 30,000-square-foot, 13th-century castle with Turkish baths, indoor pool, oriental tea room, helipad, spa and fitness center. The buildings, on 1,125 acres located 45 minutes from Paris, have undergone a 14-year renovation.

* Emerald Cay -- A private island in the Turks and Caicos island chain in the Caribbean, east of Cuba. The island features a 30,000-square-foot mansion and four private beaches.

Other properties scheduled to open along with Buffalo Bill Ranch in 2008 include private golf courses in St. Andrews, Scotland and Palm Springs, Calif. More properties may be added to the YCW roster.

Members also will have access to Yellowstone Club in Big Sky, and can contract with YCW to use private jets and yachts owned by the club.

According to the Associated Press, Blixseth said a recent initial offering of 25 memberships sold out in one day.

###

 

Blixseths Divorce ‘Billionaire Style’

Yellowstone Club Owners Split

By Courtney Lowery, New West, Jan 3, 2007

Yellowstone Club owners Tim and Edra Blixseth have called it quits on their marriage, but they'll continue to co-own the private club near Big Sky, Montana.

Wall Street Journal reporter Robert Frank broke the news yesterday in a lengthy piece about how the billionaire couple divvied up their ample assets: in a few hours over a bottle of wine. In the column, with which Frank launched his new column and blog "The Wealth Report," http://blogs.wsj.com/wealth/ Frank hails the split as "do-it-yourself divorce, billionaire style." Tim will keep the condo in Boise (near his timber interests) and Edra the condo in Seattle. She got the Mexican beach house while he took the villa. They'll share the Yellowstone Club and the three private jets and Edra will keep their $200-million (or more) estate near Palm Springs.

The Desert News in Palm Springs reported on the local couple's split http://www.thedesertsun.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070103/BUSINESS/701020326/1003/business , assuring readers that the Blixseth's "presence will continue to be felt in the Coachella Valley."

In the Journal story (subscription is required, but the story can also be read here http://www.moneyweb.co.za/shares/international_news/548397.htm ), Frank writes: "Their peaceable parting marks a triumph of hope over history, and reason over money."

Photo of Tim and Edra Blixseth at right from http://www.theyellowstoneclub.com

###

 

Noted valley couple to split

Blixseths say divorce will be amicable

by Debra Gruszecki, The Desert Sun, January 3, 2007

One of America's richest couples, Tim and Edra Blixseth, has decided to divorce.

But their presence will continue to be felt in the Coachella Valley.

The Blixseths, who made their home in Rancho Mirage, spent 25 years together and amassed a $2 billion life as a couple.

They are important area philanthropists. Edra Blixseth is president of Shelter from the Storm, the valley's resource for battered women and children, a position she plans to continue.

Divorce papers were filed in early December, after assets were equally split without attorneys, Edra confirmed Tuesday.

"We are parting as friends,'' she said.

"We're just moving along in life, and sometimes life takes you down different paths."

Tim Blixseth was on his way to Montana and could not be reached for comment.

Edra Blixseth said - from Grand Rapids, Mich., where she was attending the memorial for former President Gerald R. Ford - that the divorce proceedings have been amicable.

Assets were divided by the California real estate tycoons and founders of the Yellowstone Club resort near Big Sky, Mont., without protracted legal squabbles.

So amicable, in fact, that the couple known for their lavish galas, celebrity friends and their generosity - their song, "Heart of America" raised over $127 million for Hurricane Katrina victims - attended Ford's private funeral service together in Rancho Mirage.

President Ford was a personal friend, Edra said, so the decision was made to attend the family funeral as a couple. "We adored him, and wanted to share that together,'' Edra said.

The Blixseths had hoped to keep their separation out of the limelight, at least for a while. But Robert Frank of the Wall Street Journal had an entire chapter devoted to them in a book he's writing, Edra said.

"We had to tell him,'' she said. "We'd traveled to world locations in Yellowstone Club with him, and felt we owed him this before his book came out."

News of the break-up hit Tuesday.

Lots were divided weeks ago, over a bottle of wine at the Beverly Hills Hotel, the Journal reported.

For Tim Blixseth, who was raised on welfare as a kid, had his first large business success in the timber trade and debuted in Forbes magazine in 2005 as the 645th richest person in the world, there's his land business; a Rolls Royce; two private jets; a condo in Boise, Idaho, near his timber ventures; the family compound in Yellowstone Club; and the villa in Tamarindo, Mexico.

Tim Blixseth was unavailable for comment Tuesday, but Edra said that he'd probably be accessible on the question at a later date - highlighting how amicable the process has been.

For Edra, there's the 420-acre Porcupine Creek estate in Rancho Mirage; a condo in Bellevue, Wash., where her software technology company is based; a beach house in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico; a Rolls Royce; one of three private jets; and their dogs - a retriever named Andy and a Shi-Tzu named Gulfstream 2.

"We've actually got joint custody of the dogs. He loves them, and can have visitation anytime he wants,'' Edra said. "He's been a great father to them, and knew they wanted to remain at Porcupine."

So does Edra.

Once she acquires the ranch with a 30,000-square-foot mansion with a 19-hole golf course and eight cottages and casitas at a price she said exceeds $200 million, Porcupine Creek will remain as pristine as it now.

From the woodwork in the house that was done by one son, to the gates fashioned by another, and the golf course oversight a son-in-law gave, Edra said the family with four children - all from previous marriages - was involved in the creation of every inch of the estate. "It was built with the love, and I've always said that's the house I'll die in when I'm 110."

Edra said in a telephone interview late Tuesday during a break from the Ford family funeral , that she plans to split her time between Rancho Mirage and Seattle, where her newest business venture is underway. She expects to attend Palm Springs International Film Festival.

Blixseth plans to keep a residence in the valley, Edra said.

"But that's Tim's story to tell."

###

 

A billionaire divorce - and not a lawyer in sight

Tim and Edra Blixseth try a DIY split 'with dignity'; they'll share the three jets

By Robert Frank, Wall Street Journal, Jan 3, 2006

Tim and Edra Blixseth spent 25 years building a $2 billion life together.

When they decided to divorce, they spent a single afternoon in the Beverly Hills Hotel, dividing it all up. With just two notebooks and a bottle of wine, the Blixseths -- California real-estate tycoons and founders of the famed Yellowstone Club -- finished the job in a matter of hours.

No attorneys. No accountants. No judges.

She kept their 420-acre estate. He got the house in Mexico. He kept his land businesses. She kept the dogs. They each got a Rolls Royce, and they will share their three private jets.

"We have always tried to live our lives with dignity and respect," Tim says. "We wanted to do the same in divorce."

At a time when most billionaire breakups follow a predictable pattern -- the torn pre-nup, the flying Wedgwood china, the army of lawyers, the incriminating photos and, finally, the exasperated judge -- the Blixseths have come up with a refreshing alternative.

Call it the do-it-yourself divorce, billionaire style.

Rather than fighting over every piece of silver, the Blixseths decided to keep what's most important to each of them and split the difference. Life's too short, they figured. And why give the lawyers all the money if you can work it out yourselves?

Their peaceable parting marks a triumph of hope over history, and reason over money. Most wealthy spouses follow the greed principle: The more stuff you have, the more there is to fight over. From supermarket maven Ron Burkle, whose bitter 2003 divorce has just been unsealed, to former Beatle Paul McCartney, who's trading daily insults with ex-model Heather Mills, the rich almost never split amicably. And money is usually at the center of the acrimony. Wealth, as the saying goes, is a magnifier, especially in divorce.

"When you get to this level of wealth, the greed element usually sets in," says Bill Zabel, the New York attorney who mediated George Soros's split from his wife in 2004 and represented Jane Beasely Welch in her 2003 divorce from former GE chief Jack Welch.

The Blixseths, both in their 50s, tried a different path. During their marriage, Tim and Edra rose to the top of the business world and to the heights of high society. Tim, a tanned land baron who never wears a suit, grew up on welfare and made his first fortune in the timber trade. Edra, a former hotel executive, had her own career as a designer and entrepreneur.

In the late 1990s, the couple teamed up to form the Yellowstone Club, one the country's first private golf and ski communities. The club became a popular playground for the super-rich, counting Bill Gates and other billionaires as members. Running Yellowstone, the Blixseths became the merry innkeepers to the new-money crowd, hosting power dinners for corporate chiefs, hedge-funders and media stars.

They threw legendary parties at their estate near Palm Springs, equipped with an auditorium called "The Party Pad," where pop stars like Eric Benet sang songs often written by Tim. (Aside from trading in timberland, Tim has written a few hits, including "Coyote Ugly" and "Heart of America.") They also have given generously to charity, chipping in millions to the post-Katrina relief effort.

In 2005, Tim made his debut on the Forbes list with an estimated net worth of $1.2 billion, though the couple estimates their assets are currently worth between $1.5 billion and $2 billion.

A couple of months ago, they decided to separate or divorce. Their four kids -- all from previous marriages -- were grown. "Our lives and interests were growing apart," Edra says. "There was no scandal or affair or event. It happened over time."

Neither wanted to place their fate in the hands of a judge. So they hatched a plan for their own deal. They each made a list of their assets and their estimated worth. They ranked each by order of personal importance. Then they met at the Beverly Hills Hotel to compare their notepads.

"We sat down, and I joked 'I'll show you mine if you show me yours,' " Edra recalls.

Surprisingly, the lists were relatively compatible, though they're still wrestling over a few assets and valuations. (And they had to be interviewed separately.)

They started with their estate, called Porcupine Creek, a 30,000-square-foot mansion with a 19-hole golf course and eight cottages and casitas. Realtors say it's one of the most expensive homes in the country, with an estimated sale price of $200 million or more (though it's not on the market).

Edra grew attached to the home where she raised her kids, while Tim says he is more of a "nomad." They put Porcupine Creek on Edra's side of the ledger.

The rest of the couple's properties fell into easy "his" and "her" categories. Edra kept the condo in Seattle, since it's close to one of her start-up companies. Tim got the condo in Boise, Idaho, near his timber operations. She got the beach house in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, while he kept the villa just down the coast in Tamarindo.

They will each keep their own businesses and will remain partners in the companies they operate together, including Yellowstone. They agreed to share their three jets. And for now, Edra gets the dogs, a golden retriever named Andy and a Shi Tzu named G2 (as in Gulfstream 2).

"For me, the businesses were the most important," Tim says. "This is what I do for a living, it's exciting, I love doing it, and it has a very bright future and a lot of upside. I can always build another Porcupine Creek."

Granted, Tim and Edra would have had to divide their fortune in half anyway. California's community-property laws require couples without pre-nups to equally split assets acquired during their marriage, unless they came from inheritance or gifts. And Tim and Edra both had lawyers sign off on the deal before they filed the divorce in court.

Of course, there's a chance that the deal won't last. "This is not to say that the whole thing won't blow up in court," Edra says. "But unless one of us does something out of character, I don't think it will."

If their agreement holds up, the Blixseths may have set a new example for the wealthy -- and the not-so-wealthy.

###

 

The World's Most Expensive Home

by Kerry A. Dolan, Forbes, Jan 25, 2007

Forget who has the biggest yacht. The emerging battleground for bragging rights these days is who will lay claim to the world’s most expensive home.

Timber and real estate baron Tim Blixseth just upped the ante. He plans to build and sell a 53,000-square-foot stone and wood mansion at the Yellowstone Club, the members-only, Blixseth-developed residential ski and golf resort near Bozeman, Mont. Price tag: $155 million.

That outranks other publicized mega-homes in the category. These include the $139 million Updown Court in Windlesham, England, which topped the Forbes.com list of the world’s most expensive homes in 2006. It also exceeds the $125 million that Donald Trump is asking for the renovated estate he owns in Palm Beach, Fla.

It seems price is no object for those with a hankering for souped-up real estate. Blixseth says several members of the Forbes 400 have already expressed interest in the home.

In Pictures: World's Most Expensive Home

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Video: Beating The Housing Slump

"I can’t believe the interest," says Blixseth, who ranks No. 322 in the 2006 Forbes 400 list, with a $1.2 billion fortune. "Some of [the world’s richest] just have to have the best. Price is not an issue."

Or is it? The very steep price conveys an exclusivity that only a small number of people worldwide can afford. And that may make these homes all the more attractive. Blixseth has a friend in Beverly Hills who he says raised the asking price on his home from $54 million to $100 million and received many more inquiries.

Mega Manse

The 10-bedroom Blixseth mansion will sit on 160 acres and come with a private gondola-like chairlift that will whisk residents up to the Yellowstone Club’s private ski slopes. There will also be an indoor/outdoor swimming pool separated by a glass wall that can slide away on warm summer days, as well as a home movie theater--practically a standard feature in super high-end homes. The home will come furnished.

"When someone writes that kind of check, they don’t want to have to worry about knives, forks and spoons," says Blixseth. "The wine cellar should be stocked."

Work is 70% complete on the 1.25 mile driveway, which will set Blixseth back $2 million because it runs through rugged, difficult terrain. He aims to strike ground on the home in June and, using a construction crew 10 times the typical size, hopes to finish work in 14 or 15 months. The architect for the project is Jerry Locati of nearby Bozeman, Mont. Locati has designed 35 homes in the Yellowstone Club resort.

The Price Of Luxury

Construction costs are expected to total between $35 million and $40 million. That doesn’t include the cost of the land, which he already owns. In 1991, Blixseth paid $19 million for 140,000 acres of timberland near Yellowstone National Park, and later swapped that land for the 13,400 acres that form the Yellowstone Club, plus some other parcels elsewhere in Montana.

Blixseth is confident he will be able to sell the planned super-mansion, if only because so many second homes in the $20 million range are being snapped up of late.

"I’ve never seen such a feeding frenzy," he says. But, adds the billionaire, who grew up poor as the son of Norwegian immigrants, "I never thought I would ever be talking these numbers."

###

 

Daydreams On Buying The $155 Million Symbol Of Material Excess

By David Nolt, Newwest.net, Feb 7, 2007

"mr. Blixseth, I'd like to make an offer"

After timber baron-turned-real estate developer Tim Blixseth boasted last week in Forbes that he is building a $155 million spec home in his super-rich enclave called The Yellowstone Club near Big Sky, Montana, many citizens of the West responded not with envy or inspiration, but disbelief and derision aimed at the sheer in-your-face decadence of Blixseth’s latest attempt to seize public attention and cash in for himself. Here, in this piece from David Nolt, senior editor for the Livingston Weekly newspaper, the reporter summons a dream of his own—picking up the phone and calling Mr. Blixseth to make an offer on this latest example of material excess.

I’ve lived in Montana about 13 years now all told, and for much of that time I have entertained the notion of owning land or a home or a hollow somewhere in this great state. I currently do not own such a property, and, several years after my college years, still find myself renting a 10x10 studio apartment with shoddy plumbing. Though I would like to tell myself my utter lack of capital, credit and all-around buying power prevent me from buying a home, it goes beyond that. I just have not found the right place. Until now.

Enter Tim Blixseth, builder of dreams, developer of...well, developments. No, let’s call them "dream homes." Now, I hate to use a baseball metaphor and especially a Hollywood one, but Blixseth’s latest dream home has me hearing the haunting, whispered-from-above words: "If you build it they will come." If he builds it they will come. They will come whistling to the tune of $155 million.

No one said dreams were cheap. In fact, this heavenly abode is the most expensive on the planet. The Yellowstone Club development, which is about a year from completion, will go on the market with the highest price tag of any home in the world. And right here in little old Montana.

At first the price tag scared me. But then I began to weigh the amenities. Heated driveway? Sold. OK, I weighed one amenity before I made the decision to buy, but the rest are pretty swank plusses too. Indoor gondola? Check (I hate going outdoors to ski). Views of Lone Mountain? Check, though a quick look around proves I do not have the lone view of said mountain. Oh well. Ten rooms? I was hoping for 11, but one can’t be too picky.

Upon seeing the well-publicized and press-worthy story, I picked up my phone and called to make an offer. As I was calling, though, I realized I was not the only one interested. I read on: "I can’t believe the interest," Blixseth exclaimed to Forbes magazine. "Some of [the world’s richest] just have to have the best. Price is not an issue." The word was out, and I did not have much time. The line was busy, and it would remain busy for the rest of the day. My dream home was at the tip of my fingertips, but still ever so slippery.

I sat sulking in my ramshackle one-room apartment. No TV. No microwave. No driveway, let alone a heated one. "What a loser I am," I said to myself. "I bet the elite don’t even know I’m alive," I mumbled.

I closed my eyes and suddenly found myself sitting at a large island in the middle of a large kitchen sipping an even larger mimosa. I finished my sparkling drink, clapped my hands to turned my Mozart off, snapped on my goggles and headed to the living room launching station to catch the gondola up the mountain for my daily run. It looked nice outside, and I imagined it smelled like pine. The petty millionaires mingled below on the lower gondola (they may as well take a tow rope) and I gracefully floated up the mountain on my very own heavenly chariot. I was then awoken by a phone ringing, and it wasn’t my built in helmet Bluetooth. It was reality calling.

My friend was on the phone and he asked what I was doing. "Oh," I said nonchalantly, "just preparing to buy the most expensive home on the planet. What are you doing?"

"Extravagant, decadent pig," he replied.

"You’re just jealous," I retorted. "Maybe if you would get your act together you could buy your dream home too."

He hung up.

Now, my friend might say using the resources to build, heat and power such a home when Montanans across the state, and indeed citizens across the world, are enduring economic injustice and inequality. The environment is facing breaking points. The world over is wrong and morally reprehensible. But then again, my friend is a hippie whose idea of a dream home is a tee-pee with a steady supply of hummus.

My friend needs to pull himself up by his moccasin straps and smell the smelling salt of the 21st century real estate market in Montana. There’s no room for tee-pees under the Big Sky (or at least in Big Sky). Rivers are for sale, land ain’t cheap, and as far as excess goes, the Big Sky is the limit. I’ll find a way to get that dream home if it means lying, cheating and stealing to do it. It will be mine.

Oh yes, it will be mine.

###

 

Here’s how Blixseth did it

By Scott McMillion, Bozeman Chronicle, April 13, 2006

Early in 1992, The Nature Conservancy, with $10 million in backing from CNN founder Ted Turner, was trying to buy 165,000 acres from Plum Creek Timber Co., most of it inside the Gallatin National Forest.

The Nature Conservancy planned to trade some of that land with the U.S. Forest Service and launch an experiment in sustainable logging and recreational development. Negotiations dragged on for months, but fell apart after the news became public.

Within a few weeks, Tim Blixseth, along with partners Mel and Norm McDougal, announced they had bought the Plum Creek property. They paid $27.5 million for the land and a sawmill in Belgrade that employed scores of people. But before the papers were signed, they had arranged to sell some big chunks.

"We went to work and found buyers," Blixseth said in an interview.

He and his partners, calling themselves Big Sky Lumber Co., arranged for other investors to take a 25,000 acre-parcel west of Big Sky, the Jack Creek property, for $6.5 million. Today, it has become the ski and golf resort called Moonlight Basin, a place where 20-acre lots are listed for $3 million.

At the same time, timber giant Louisiana Pacific bought the Belgrade sawmill and a multi-year timber contract with BSL for $9 million, Blixseth said. The mill shut down after the lumber contract was complete, and the property became bustling retail space on the west end of Belgrade.

The sawmill and Moonlight sales reduced BSL’s overall price to $12 million, or about $86 an acre for the remaining 140,000 acres. The partners borrowed half of the purchase price.

Blixseth put up "about $3 million" in cash, he said. Today, condos at the Yellowstone Club cost more than that.

LOGGER FIRST

But it took a lot of work to make the Yellowstone Club happen.

Most of the Plum Creek land was in a checkerboard land pattern that stretched from Yellowstone National Park to the north end of the Bridger Mountains. Plum Creek had tried for decades to arrange land swaps that would allow it and the Forest Service to consolidate their holdings.

Some of the property was pristine, untouched and unroaded, while much of it had been heavily logged.

The Plum Creek swaps had a lot of support, but never made it past Congress.

Enter Blixseth.

He told the Chronicle in 1992 that he had come to saw logs and make money and wasn’t worried about battles with environmentalists.

"Maybe someplace in this United States of America, somebody needs to draw a line and protect private property rights," he said at the time. "Maybe I’m the guy and that’s the place."

He referred to the property as a "tree farm" and once said he was "tired of people saying clear-cutting is a bad word."

Statements like that got people’s attention.

Meanwhile, he worked behind the scenes with members of Congress, the Forest Service and environmental groups to hammer out a deal.

By 1993, Congress had approved the first of two land swaps. BSL gave up 38,000 acres, mostly roadless land along the crest of the Gallatin Range, and got 16,300 acres of prime timberland scattered across western Montana. That property, lower in elevation and easier to reach, was logged and/or sold quickly.

By 1995, land prices were still climbing and BSL sold another 8,100 acres to the Forest Service in the Porcupine drainage -- prime elk and grizzly bear habitat southeast of Big Sky -- for $16.4 million, the appraised value.

Later, it completed another swap with the Forest Service.

By the time it was all said and done, the company traded to the government 101,000 acres in exchange for 47,000 acres, plus $25 million.

A GOOD DEAL

Once those swaps were complete, Blixseth and the McDougals dissolved BSL and divided the assets, which included tens of millions earned from land and timber sales. The McDougals got land in Bridger Canyon, which they sold, and Blixseth kept nearly 15,000 acres south of Big Sky, which he developed into the Yellowstone Club.

Making the land swaps happen required two acts of Congress, the support of the timber industry and most environmental groups, and a lot of work from the Forest Service, especially real estate specialist Bob Dennee.

Looking back, Dennee said the swaps made sense. They removed threats to ecologically sensitive areas and recreation as well as making the forest easier to manage. If the trades hadn’t happened, there likely would be homes, roads and other development today in what now remain as roadless areas. And BSL already owned most of the land that later became the Yellowstone Club, so it probably would have been developed in some fashion anyway.

Before the Porcupine sale, some observers accused Blixseth of parking a metaphoric bulldozer at the entrance to that wild drainage n a place near and dear to the heart of conservationists and recreationalists of many stripes n and saying, in effect, "what will you give me to turn this sucker off?"

"Metaphoric or not," Blixseth said. "The best way to get a deal done is to keep everybody’s attention on the deal. Everybody paid attention."

"They were good at that," Dennee said.

Plum Creek couldn’t make the swaps happen because, as a public corporation, it couldn’t make decisions fast enough, Blixseth said.

"We had the ability, on the spot, to say yes or no," he said.

The results are on the ground. Porcupine and the Gallatin Crest remain roadless and grizzlies still roam there. Elk still migrate through the Taylor Fork, undisturbed by subdivisions. The Yellowstone Club is a reality. So is Moonlight Basin. So is the booming new commercial district at Belgrade’s Interstate 90 exit.

"I think overall the public got a good deal," said Michael Scott, director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. "Did we get everything we wanted? No. Did we get a big chunk of what was important? Absolutely."

Michael Clarke, a veteran environmental consultant, said he, too, sees the swaps as a good deal, though the "extravagant development" at the Yellowstone Club "makes me wince. But the die is cast and set. We can’t change the template now."

The swaps preserved a lot of wild country. They helped create a lot of jobs. And they helped Blixseth make a lot of money.

Today, Forbes Magazine estimates his net worth at $1.2 billion, and most of that was made in Montana. For him, it started with about $3 million in cash.

###

 

 

The $100M house that Blixseth built

By Scott McMillion, Bozeman Chronicle, April 20, 2008

BIG SKY - This is the house that Tim Blixseth built, and it starts with 120,000 square feet - almost three acres - of boards and timbers and stone called the Warren Miller Lodge at the Yellowstone Club.

"That’s your basic $100 million lodge," Blixseth said.

The lodge contains ski shops and restaurants, lobbies and bars and lots of big, gas-fired fireplaces. Fine art adorns the walls, bronze statuary stands guard everywhere. The wine list will blow your hair back, or at least the prices will. Almost everywhere you look, an employee is cleaning something. The furniture is heavy. The spaces are expansive. Ceilings rise and rise and rise. The heat bill must be incredible.

Upstairs, you find condominiums, some serviced by private elevators. The biggest condo measures 5,900 square feet and each one of those square feet recently sold for about $1,100. That works out to roughly $6.5 million.

And the lodge is just the gateway to this very private and expensive club, where nobody enters until the security guard gets the OK.

On one flank lies a golf course, on other flanks rise mountains where 15 ski lifts carry a thin stream of passengers from mansion doorways to mountaintop.

At mid-mountain, there’s a restaurant where buffet items include seared yellowfin tuna and chicken wrapped in grape leaves. Servers are attentive. The napkins are linen. There’s no cash in sight. Since it’s a private club, everybody just signs the bill and pays later.

Another thing you won’t find is a lift line. And come summer, there’s always a tee time, for those who can afford the multimillion dollar cost of membership.

Surrounding the mountains are 14,300 acres of club property, most of it under a conservation easement. Members can ride horses or hike or bicycle, if they crave a little privacy.

Alongside the ski slopes, sky cranes loom, building more mansions.

Business is brisk. Last year, the club sold $95 million worth of real estate, according to club executives, bringing the total above $1 billion over the past 10 years.

And prices keep rising.

The first lots sold for about $200,000 in the late 1990s, Blixseth said. Now, some property here sells for $1 million an acre and up.

At those prices, buyers aren’t hauling in any double-wides. They’re building what one area artist called "the halls of the mountain kings. Every time I go there, I expect to hear Grieg."

It takes nearly 600 people to run this place during peak season, and that doesn’t include construction workers. The traffic from carpenters, masons, electricians and other laboring people accounts for 20,000 to 30,000 vehicle entries a month, according to Charlie Callander, vice-president of sales.

All that construction has been in the forefront of Gallatin County’s economic boom over the past decade, according to Leon Royer, president of American Bank and a close observer of the local economy.

"I think the whole expansion of the economy you could lay at the foot of The Yellowstone Club," Royer said. "They’ve done more to bring prosperity than any other entity. It’s created, I honestly believe, thousands of jobs."

And now the club’s future is unknown. Blixseth tried for months to sell the place, but a proposed deal with CrossHarbor Capital, a Boston-based private equity firm, fell apart late in March. Sam Byrne, a principal in that company, also is a Yellowstone Club member who is building a set of luxury condominiums here.

And now Blixseth and his estranged wife, Edra, are clawing for control of the club. She maintains it’s on the verge of bankruptcy and she has asked a judge to toss Tim Blixseth out and name her as the boss.

Tim Blixseth maintains that is nonsense. He says the club is current on its bills, and fell behind on legal settlements and contractor payments only because the CrossHarbor deal fell apart.

"She’s pretty good at interior design but has no concept of finances," he said of Edra Blixseth.

Judge Loren Tucker, in sleepy Virginia City, will eventually decide whom to believe.

MISTER HUSTLE

Blixseth, now 57, has a long history in real estate deals, some of them controversial. He said he made his first million by the time he was 25 years old, buying and selling timber and land in his native Oregon. He grew up poor, the youngest of five children who were forced to attend what he now calls a religious cult focused on apocalypse.

"It was definitely a mini-cult," he said. "Not nearly as big or sophisticated as some."

His first job in the timber industry had him bundling cedar shingles as a teenager. His first dream was to be a singer-songwriter and he once produced an album of his songs that he called "Timothy," because some people have a hard time pronouncing his last name. He still writes songs, records and promotes them.

As a young man in Oregon, he often worked with other people’s money, buying and selling, usually moving fast. It worked for a while. Then, in 1986, when the timber market collapsed, he found himself in bankruptcy court, unable to pay a reported $16 million in debt.

But within a couple years he was back on his feet, a partner in a new company called Crown Pacific Ltd., which borrowed $300 million and bought nearly a half-million acres of timberland in Washington and Oregon. Blixseth was back in the fast lane, zipping around in a private jet. When his partner bought him out in 1990, for a figure Blixseth described as "eight figures" - which means at least $10 million - he tried taking it easy for a while.

"I tried that retirement crap once in 1990," he said.

It didn’t work.

Within a couple years, he and some partners bought 140,000 acres in the Gallatin National Forest. That’s also when Montana real estate prices started climbing, and Blixseth was on the path to some serious money through his creation of the Yellowstone Club.

There were a lot of big-gulp moments along the way.

"Like about every day," he said. "In the early days, everybody thought I was crazy."

Today, the club is an established presence and 340 millionaire families have become members, which means they bought club real estate and pay $16,000 in annual dues, roughly annual take-home pay for somebody with a $10-an-hour job. The number of front doors in the club, whether homes, condos or duplexes, will be limited to 864.

Only 100 homes have been completed and 80 more are under construction, Callander said. While awaiting construction of their own homes, members can rent slope-side cabins or the existing homes of other members. Assuming the Blixseths can settle their legal differences, or find another buyer, hundreds more homes could be built here.

"Love him or hate him, he pulled it off," Gallatin County Commissioner Bill Murdock said of Blixseth. "I leave it to others to say if it’s good or bad."

The personal future of the Blixseths remains unknown. But their legal bickering affects hundreds of employees and contractors, plus the 340 families who have bought into the club. Whatever happens in court, however, it seems unlikely the club will go away, with so many millionaires already so heavily invested.

A number of members, or a group of them, could easily buy the club if they so decide, said one member, speaking on condition of anonymity.

CRITICAL MASS

Blixseth said the club reached a "critical mass" when 100 people embraced the concept and bought property here.

"It was pretty obvious we were getting past the tipping point," he said. "Those 100 people all tell four friends how much they like it in Montana. Then one of those friends buys."

It didn’t hurt to have club members like Microsoft founder Bill Gates, former vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp, and pro golfer Anika Sorenstam on board to help build the club’s image.

The land sales made it possible to finance the infrastructure: 15 ski lifts, 31 miles of paved roads, a private fire department (with $1.2 million worth of trucks and 21 fulltime firefighters), the golf course and that great big lodge, where diners can dig into chilled caviar, then take a seat, if they choose, on antique furniture covered with real zebra or leopard skins. If they want a full meal, a Persian carpet 100-feet-long pads the hallway to the dining room.

"It’s been an interesting ride so far," said Warren Miller, the ski movie pioneer for whom the lodge is named.

Now in his 80s, he still skis every day.

"The snow’s still white, it still sticks to a hill. The lifts still run," he said. "What else do you need?"

BAD NEWS

One thing the club, and the Big Sky area, needed in recent years was publicity. And the club attracted it by the trainload, much of it cultivated by Tim Blixseth. Most of it was good. Golf, skiing, architecture and lifestyle magazines profiled the club, mostly in terms ranging from favorable to glowing.

"There were a couple hundred pretty good articles and a couple of bad ones," Blixseth said.

The bad ones have arrived recently, and have focused on the increasing bitterness of his divorce and the recently settled, then reopened, lawsuit filed by bicycle racing champion Greg LeMond and other, early, club investors. They claimed Blixseth tried to buy out their interest at a lowball rate, then kicked them out when they complained.

Judge Tucker reinstated them as members and Blixseth has agreed to buy their shares for $38 million. But the last payment of $20 million is overdue, and now LeMond and the others want interest and legal fees, which will be considerable, because legal documents in the case fill 4 feet of a courthouse shelf.

Blixseth doesn’t like talking about the LeMond case. But he also noted that the recent negative publicity helped him decide not to proceed with Yellowstone Club World, meant to be a chain of luxurious castles, haciendas, yachts and golf courses he’s been purchasing around the world, in part with money he borrowed, using the Yellowstone Club as collateral.

His plans called for selling world-club memberships for $3 million. The New York Times Magazine called it "Club Med for the Multimillionaire Set."

Now it’s off the table, at least for a while.

"We put selling those memberships on hold," he said.

World Club assets include a French castle, resorts in Mexico and the Caribbean, and some land in Saint Andrews, Scotland, where plans called for a private golf course.

Edra Blixseth said last week that selling one of those properties would cover all of the club’s debt, but Tim Blixseth refuses to sell.

The squabbling continues.

GOOD NEWS

As the Yellowstone Club drew reams of publicity over the years, the impact of all that ink spilled in lots of places.

Tom Simkins, along with his family, owns Simkins-Hallin Lumber in Bozeman. The family also owns a big chunk of land near Big Sky’s Meadow Village. The road to the Yellowstone Club passes right through it.

For years, Simkins said, the family had contemplated building a "downtown" on the land, a combination of residences and pedestrian-accessible retail space. For a long time, visitors had complained about a paucity of concentrated shopping in the sprawling resort area.

Once the Yellowstone Club took off, the Simkins family decided to go ahead with the Big Sky Town Center, which will be providing construction jobs for another decade or so.

"Big Sky was kind of not doing much," Simkins said. "The Yellowstone Club was the first to really catch hold and that started the turnaround. It brought a lot of notoriety and put Big Sky on the map."

Simkins said he was dubious of Blixseth’s plans at first.

"When he started, a lot of people thought he was crazy: a private ski and golf community?" Simkins said. "But he made it happen. And this is what allowed our family’s plan to take hold. It raised the consciousness about the whole Big Sky area."

Blixseth, along with Pittsburgh financier Jim Dolan, also started the Spanish Peaks development, a high-end but somewhat less exclusive resort on neighboring property: At Spanish Peaks, the security guard at the gate just waves to visitors. Blixseth has since sold his interests to Dolan.

Those two developments, Blixseth said, contribute at least $500 million a year, maybe considerably more, to the local economy on purchases, club employees’ wages and construction.

The Montana Department of Commerce last year estimated construction in the entire Big Sky area creates 7,431 jobs.

"Every business in Bozeman has benefited," Simkins said. "Grocery stores, restaurants, lumber yards."

Simkins and Royer agreed there’s been a marked slowdown in construction in the region in recent months. There have been layoffs, and home sales have dwindled. But they both said they remain optimistic about the region’s long-term future.

"I’m very bullish about the prospects of the Big Sky, Bozeman, Livingston area," Simkins said.

And for the ultra wealthy, the kind of people who can afford a mansion at the Yellowstone Club, the wavering of the economy won’t make much difference, Royer said.

"The high end is going to continue where it is, which is above the fray," he said.

BLIXSETH’S FUTURE

Blixseth said he has no plans to retire. Before the proposed sale fell apart, he said he had plans for at least two more Yellowstone Club-type developments, near major cities in the West. He wouldn’t name them, but said they would offer private memberships for golf, horseback riding and other recreation, with houses in the $1 million range instead of the $10 million range.

It would be a much bigger market.

Now, he said he plans to fight Edra’s takeover move in court and manage the club long term. He’s shifting his sales model, from one focused on "bare dirt" to one emphasizing "vertical product," condominiums that sell more quickly. As of last week, he was working on one such project with Sam Byrne, the CrossHarbor principal who backed out of the overall purchase.

Some of the properties he acquired for the Yellowstone Club World could be converted to stand-alone clubs, Blixseth said.

He likes challenges, he said, doing things nobody’s done before. But another Yellowstone Club isn’t likely to happen.

For now, he’s living in Medina, Wash., in his lakeshore house.

"Water’s kind of peaceful for me," he said.

Plus, the water’s deep. He can park his yacht there.

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Money changes everything

By Scott McMillion, Bozeman Chronicle, April 18, 2008

Robert Redford and Tim Blixseth don’t have much in common, aside from their big impact on Montana’s landscape.

One is a Hollywood actor, movie producer and liberal environmental activist. The other is a jet-setting billionaire who wheels and deals in luxury real estate.

But they both changed Montana. Between them, they’ve helped shoulder the state into a new economy, one increasingly based on real estate, construction and recreation. It’s what economists call an "amenity" economy, one that relies on scenic views, pleasing lifestyles and portable money.

Redford, with his beautifully produced and photographed 1992 movie "A River Runs Through It," made a movie star of both Brad Pitt and Montana’s scenery. The film generated tons of glowing publicity about the state, ignited a new craze for fly fishing and started a population influx and demographic shift that the Montana Department of Commerce has dubbed "A River Runs Through It Syndrome."

Also in 1992, Blixseth landed in Montana, purchasing 140,000 acres of land, then proceeding with a series of land deals that eventually resulted in The Yellowstone Club, a gated community where only millionaires are allowed.

The club symbolizes wretched excess for some people and King Solomon’s mines for others. But love it or hate it, the club stands as the keystone property in the booming Big Sky resort area, a generator of intense publicity, and a major driver of the region’s economy.

Redford’s movie put Southwestern Montana on the map.

And while he didn’t do it alone, Blixseth put it on the market.

Now, 15 years later, this part of the state is a very different place.

New waves of homesteaders have arrived and they aren’t like the honyockers of the early 20th century, the people lured west by hucksters who promised that rain would follow the plow. The first wave of homesteaders came here for free land and a chance to make a living. Most of them went broke.

The new homesteaders are a different sort. Few of them come here looking to expand their wealth. Instead, they bring their own money. Economically, they make their own rain, and a lot of people are hoisting buckets, trying to catch some.

Gallatin County alone has 828 licensed real estate agents - almost a quarter of the state’s total. Bozeman offers a variety of sushi restaurants, plus Persian rug dealers, cosmetic surgery centers and art galleries of all stripes.

On one block of the sunny side of Bozeman’s Main Street, you can find $2,000 espresso machines, $10,000 sofas and $60,000 home theater systems. Million-dollar McMansions pepper the landscape, designer clothing surrounds the tables in tony restaurants, and just try to count all those Audis and Expeditions and Escalades.

And then there’s the cash money. Federal bank regulators say that Gallatin County banks hold $1.6 billion in cash deposits. That’s $20,000 for every man, woman and child in the county. It’s 30 percent above the state average and the total grew by $1 billion between 2000 and 2007.

And the truly wealthy n Forbes Magazines’s list of the 400 richest Americans names at least 10 people with homes in Montana n tend to do their banking somewhere else. They might have a $10 million property in Montana, but home, and the major bank account, remains elsewhere.

"Lots of people with wealth, whether they’re part-timers or not, don’t necessarily do their banking here," said Larry Swanson, an economist at the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West at University of Montana.

Measuring the impact of the new wealth in Montana, Swanson said, is like looking at an iceberg: Most of the bulk is underwater and unseen, but that’s what packs the wallop.

At Blixseth’s Yellowstone Club alone, 340 millionaires have already bought land. And Blixseth says he’s confident he can bring in about 500 more.

Some people, particularly those with marketable skills, benefit from the influx of wealth.

"It means an electrician can drive a $40,000 vehicle and live in a $400,000 house," said Clark Wheeler, a veteran land appraiser in Bozeman. "Twenty years ago, they were living pretty sparse."

And while a lot of people are putting a lot of money in the bank, the averages don’t tell the whole story. Some people stash a lot of green. Others can’t find much at all.

Poverty remains high in the Gallatin Valley, though it’s largely out of sight.

In one Bozeman school, 44 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price meals. At the Gallatin County Food Bank, the number of households needing help has remained steady: About 7 percent of the population walks through the door every year, asking for something to eat. That proportion didn’t decline much over the past seven years, while Gallatin County residents tucked an extra $1 billion into local banks.

"It’s stayed pretty steady," said Heather Grenier, the food bank’s program director.

Almost everybody who comes in for food has a job or two, she said. But for the working poor, too often, the ends don’t meet, especially when prices just keep rising and rising.

Around the region, many families are just a broken car, an unexpected illness or a missed paycheck away from being homeless.

Starting today, the Chronicle takes an in-depth look at Southwest Montana’s new economy. We look at who’s benefited from it and who hasn’t. We look at how our new neighbors contribute to the local community, or how they choose not to.

Economists, political scientists and local government officials all say the new economy is here to stay. Ranchers are bailing out, heading for flatter ground that’s less expensive and less contentious. Subdivisions and strip malls and trophy homes continue to sprout. So do gravel pits and power lines.

You can blame it on Robert Redford and Tim Blixseth. Or you can thank them for it. Your choice likely depends on whether the wave of new wealth gave you a thrilling ride or just left you fighting ever harder to keep your head above water.

A rising tide might not float all boats. But it rocks them.

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Ski resort for super rich files for bankruptcy

Reuters, November 11, 2008

Exclusive ski and golf community Yellowstone Club, in Montana, has filed for bankruptcy protection, a sign that the financial crisis roiling the real estate and leisure industries is not limited to the low end of the market.

The club, in the pristine mountain area around Big Sky, Montana, not far from Yellowstone National Park, is part resort and part residential community for the super-rich.

It advertises housing lots on the sides of its ski slopes and golf course at prices ranging from $2 million to more than $6 million.

In a filing made in federal bankruptcy court in Montana on Monday, Yellowstone Mountain Club LLC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, listing assets and liabilities in the range of $100 million to $500 million.

The filing was signed by owner and developer Edra Blixseth, who started the business in 2000 along with former husband Tim Blixseth.

The company, which plans to carry on doing business, asked for an expedited hearing so it can secure financing.

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Rich Feel the Pinch at Montana Mountain Resort

Foxnews.com, November 24, 2008

BILLINGS, Mont. — An ultra-exclusive Montana resort under federal bankruptcy protection is hustling to raise cash to open for the winter season, as hundreds of creditors owed at least $399 million jockey to get their money back.

The Yellowstone Club, which boasts a private ski slope on 13,600 acres near Yellowstone National Park, will run out of money around Nov. 28 unless it can get another loan.

That seems an unlikely fate for a club that lists as members billionaire Bill Gates and Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt. The descent into financial turmoil offers a stark example of how the nation's financial crisis has reached the playgrounds of the very rich — tripping them up in their own excess.

Less than two years ago the club's owners were pursuing ambitious plans that they said included the world's most expensive home, a $155 million, 53,000-square-foot behemoth complete with heated driveway. That project was never built. Now the club is one of at least four high-end resorts that have sought bankruptcy protection in recent months.

Like the others, the Yellowstone Club was heavily leveraged, meaning huge loans were taken out to develop the ski hill, golf course and multimillion dollar mountainside condominiums.

When the credit crisis hit, the money dried up. A $4.5 million interim loan recently arranged through Credit Suisse was only enough to keep the club going for three weeks, leaving members clamoring.

The Yellowstone Club was founded by billionaire Tim Blixseth and his former wife, Edra. She now controls it as part of their recent divorce settlement.

On Tuesday, Blixseth and her attorneys are scheduled to appear again in court before U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Ralph Kirscher. She's seeking a court order that would ward off the club's almost 700 creditors for at least 90 days, to restructure the massive debt and figure out how to stay open.

"We're working feverishly to restructure and come up with financing," said Edra Blixseth's spokesman, Bill Keegan.

Much of the club's real estate holdings have been mortgaged and the operation has multiple liens against it. Even before filing for bankruptcy protection on Nov. 10, Edra Blixseth sought a $35 million loan to keep the operation afloat.

Blixseth also faces pressure from a two-year-old lawsuit filed by former club members, including cycling star Greg LeMond. The club still owes $13 million out of $39.5 million to settle charges that LeMond and others were shortchanged in a business deal. Last week, LeMond's attorneys asked a state judge to order payment — a bid to get to the front of the long line of creditors.

Documents filed in the bankruptcy proceedings reveal the degree of extravagance sunk into the resort. Dozens of pages detailing club assets list hundreds of millions of dollars in real estate, luxury cars and other accouterments of the very rich. They range from a $32 million Mexican estate, to $306,508 in imported rugs and $70,036 worth of Christmas decorations.

At a Nov. 13 bankruptcy hearing, Judge Kirscher commented that there was "probably adequate wealth" for a bailout among the club's estimated 340 members. He may have underestimated the level of animosity among some who have accused the Blixseths of diverting club funds for their own jet-setting lifestyle.

Both Blixseths now deny treating the club's riches as a personal fortune, although Edra made similar accusations during their divorce.

Now members are reviving questions over whether a $375 million Credit Suisse loan taken out in 2005 actually went to the club. Court testimony earlier this year in the LeMond suit showed $209 million of that loan was later signed over to BGI, Inc., a corporate entity then under control of Tim Blixseth.

Concerns over the money trail have stoked a rebellion in the club membership. A group calling itself the Ad Hoc Committee of Yellowstone Club Members opposes Edra Blixseth's efforts to arrange new financing.

To join the club, each member put down a $250,000 deposit and bought a piece of property. Earlier this year, the asking prices for Yellowstone Club building lots were up to $10 million apiece.

"As each day goes by with more uncertainty and decreasing member support, the considerable risk of the loss (of) value of the estates continues to grow," Ad Hoc Committee attorneys wrote in court documents filed Friday.

Meanwhile, at least three other high-end resorts that received loans through Credit Suisse also are battling bankruptcy. Those are the Promontory Ranch Club in Utah, Tamarack in Idaho and Lake Las Vegas in Nevada.

Credit Suisse spokesman Duncan King said that's not because of poor loan decisions at the firm, but because of broader economic problems.

"You have plenty of other areas (of the economy) that are losing money, but this one is particularly hard-hit," King said.

The pain already is trickling down in the Yellowstone region. Court filings show the club owes back wages and months worth of payments to hundreds of local employees and to contractors from across Montana.

In the community of Laurel near Billings, Ace Electric owner Dwight Fischer said he laid off six of his 60 or so employees and stopped work on the resort's lodge when its bill topped $335,000.

"The last six months have been pretty tough," Fischer said. "The lifestyle these people are accustomed to, the money is all relative. But they can't afford to let it go completely to hell."

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Yellowstone Club World in Involuntary Bankruptcy Liquidation

Creditors ask for deposits back, force liquidation of Yellowstone Club's world assets.

By Courtney Lowery, NewWest.net, January 26, 2009

Members this week filed an involuntary Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition—liquidation—against Yellowstone World Club, a spinoff of the Yellowstone Club that was envisioned as a world-wide time-share program for the richest of the rich.

The Chapter 7 petition was filed Sunday on behalf of four creditors, who total are claiming $4.65 million in refunds for deposits in Yellowstone Club World, which when launched boasted assets like the Chateau de Farcheville in France and a private golf club near the famous St. Andrews golf course in Scotland. Owner Tim Blixseth had imagined the club as having up to 150 members who would pay initiation fees of up to $10 million to rove as they wished to properties Tim Blixseth has bought across the globe. But, it never got off the ground and when it ceased operations last year, there were only a handful of members, most of them Yellowstone Club members who had "upgraded" to Yellowstone Club World.

The filing is the latest in the legal fiasco that is the Yellowstone Club bankruptcy case and while it is separate, because the convoluted financial picture that made up the empire of Tim and his ex wife Edra, it is also likely to be part of the wrangling over the Montana resort. The $375 million Credit Suisse loan that has been so central in the original bankruptcy proceedings was in part, used to purchase the properties for Yellowstone Club World and one property in particular, the chateau in France, was volleyed as collateral in Edra Blixseths takeover of the club (they divorced last year) and eventually for the post-Chapter 11 financing to continue operations. A $60 million sale of that property fell through in August.

Edra won the chateau in France and the Scotland property as part of the same settlement that gave her the Yellowstone Club. She had promised to "monetize" both properties for the benefit of the club.

The Chapter 7 filing is an aim to sort out, and likely more quickly than in Chapter 11, who and what entity now controls the Yellowstone Club World properties.

"We’re concerned the assets they do have are no longer in control of the Yellowstone Club World," said John Amsden, one of the laywers representing Yellowstone Club World members.

Members who paid to use to those properties are now being denied access and considering at least one of the properties is now being used as leverage in the Chapter 11 proceedings, the Chapter 7 is a way for the world club members to protect their interests in those assets.

"The members of the Yellowstone Club World were promised access to very specific and significant properties in return for their significant membership dues. They anticipate that their interests to those properties will be respected," Amsden said via email.

The court will appoint a trustee within 20 days who will begin sorting through the assets.

"The involuntary bankruptcy was necessary because it appears that there is no one minding the Club’s business," Amsden said. "We hope that the matter can be resolved with a minimum of expense."

The petitioners include Angus A. MacNaughton of Danville, Calif., Edgar A. Rainin of Berkeley, Calif., Yoav Rubinstein of Toronto, all of whom are requesting $1.5 million each in refunds, and Thomas W. Hook of Houston, who is requesting $150,000. All four are also Yellowstone Club members.

For background on the story:

* Yellowstone Club Creditors Assert Fraud by Credit Suisse

* Bozeman’s Story Mill Falls Victim to Yellowstone Club Debacle

* Yellowstone Club Financing Settled (For Now)

* Credit Suisse Takes Another Swing in Yellowstone Club Bankruptcy

* Portrait of a "Toxic Asset"

* Credit Suisse Prepares to Continue Legal Fight for Yellowstone Club

* Yellowstone Club Returns to Bankruptcy Court, to Sink Further Into Debt

* Yellowstone Club Gets a (Brief) Lease on Life

* Tim Blixseth Absent from Yellowstone Club Debacle - For Now

* Yellowstone Club Bankruptcy Exposes Brutal Financial Showdown

* Yellowstone Club In Desperate Straits, Court Papers Say

* Edra Blixseth Takes Over Yellowstone Club

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Founders of ritzy Montana club trade accusations

By Kahrin Deines and Matthew Brown. Associated Press, April 30, 2009

The founders of the Yellowstone Club are trading blame over who is responsible for the financial collapse of the Montana haven for the rich that has fallen more than $400 million into debt.

Members of the private ski resort — including former Vice President Dan Quayle and Bill Gates — pay substantial sums for the privilege of building expensive homes in the gated resort but they do not own the club itself.

Its founders, recently divorced Tim and Edra Blixseth, blame one another for the problems that led the club to file for federal bankruptcy protection.

Edra Blixseth has owned the club outright since last August. But Tim Blixseth was in control in 2005 when the Yellowstone Club took a $375 million loan through the firm Credit Suisse.

Most of that money went to the Blixseths' private accounts, to be spent on luxury jets and estates in California, France, the Caribbean, Mexico and Scotland.

"I assumed when no one said to me there's something wrong with it, there's nothing wrong with it," Tim Blixseth said during testimony Wednesday in the club's bankruptcy trial. He was referring to one of several money transfers — totaling more than $300 million — that the club made to a corporation Blixseth had sole control over.

"I was the manager and I did what I felt was an appropriate decision at the time," he added.

The club's creditors and members accuse Tim Blixseth of "looting" the resort. They say the loan was fraudulent and should be voided because Credit Suisse knew it would not benefit the club.

Edra Blixseth's attorney latched onto that claim during opening statements Wednesday.

"The corporate greed of Credit Suisse coupled with Mr. Blixseth's sense of entitlement is a very, very bad situation," said attorney Troy Greenfield.

Tim Blixseth's attorney, Mike Flynn, said the fact that some of the money went to his client was a red herring. "If anyone in America builds a business and wants to take money out of the business ... they're absolutely entitled to do so," Flynn said.

Edra Blixseth last month declared personal bankruptcy. Her former husband says the club was making money when she took it over, and that she drove it into the ground.

But attorneys for the creditors have cast Tim Blixseth as the engineer of the 2005 loan that makes up most of the club's debts. And despite the millions she made off the loan, Edra Blixseth says she objected to the deal at the time.

The loan was one of at least six Credit Suisse arranged for upscale resorts now in financial trouble. The deals were marketed to resort owners who then took massive and early "profit dividends" before the developments were completed.

During his testimony Wednesday, Tim Blixseth said he was told by Credit Suisse that other owners also took "distributions" from the loans made to their resorts.

Credit Suisse brought in third-party investors to fund the loans, and made its money off fees — $7.4 million in the case of the Yellowstone Club.

A Credit Suisse attorney, George Zimmerman, defended the loans and pointed out that the Yellowstone Club kept up with its payments for three years before it fell in bankruptcy.

A club member and Boston real estate investor, Sam Byrne with Crossharbor Capital Partners, has offered to buy the resort for $100 million. The price could be driven higher during an auction scheduled for May 13.

Tim Blixseth accuses his former wife of colluding with Byrne to "prepackage" the resort's bankruptcy so Byrne could later pick up the club at a bargain price. Credit Suisse has made similar allegations, but so far the judge has rejected them.

Tim Blixseth has said he will bid to regain control of the club during the upcoming auction. He developed the 13,600-acre resort with his former wife in the late 1990s, after making his riches in the timber industry.

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