Luxury and rustic camping, part 2

If “the intersection between luxury and rustic camping,” detailed in my last post, doesn’t strike you as absurd, consider the following real-world example of just how looney-tunes this can become :

For the past couple of years, a proposal to build a 57-site glamping campground on the Gallatin River in southwest Montana has been bumping along despite vociferous local opposition. The problem? The proposed 16-acre Riverbend Glamping Resort is being planned for a mile-long spit of land that sits between two channels of the river, all of it either in or surrounded by the floodway. The locals think that’s nuts. As one wrote to local officials: “You know the land is going to flood. I know it is going to flood. . . . Anyone with the sense god gave geese knows this is going to flood.”

Then there are the gas, fiber-optic and sewage lines that have to be drilled under the Gallatin, just so glampers can relax in one of a shifting mix of safari tents, teepees, Airstreams or Conestoga “wagons,” the last bearing the same relationship to real prairie schooners as a Norwegian cruise liner has to the Nina, Pinta or Santa Maria. The locals aren’t wild about that, either, as they contemplate the possibility of line breaks and river contamination.

And if the mix of accommodations sounds a bit indefinite, that’s because the project itself seems to be a work in progress–something else that gets local juices flowing. To date, it’s not clear if a comprehensive proposal has ever been submitted for public review. Permit applications have been filed piecemeal, one for drilling under the river, a different one to build gravel site pads on the site. Fresh details emerge sporadically, such as plans for a second well–drilled right in the floodway–incidentally included in an unrelated filing. Planning restrictions seem irrelevant, including the provision in the Galatin Gateway Community Plan that new development “should be designed to avoid the flood plain and to provide a setback from the river.”

On balance, then, local residents see little upside and a whole lot of down. As adjacent landowner Kris Kruid claimed in her written objections, the proposal threatens to transform “a pristine, natural, blue-ribbon trout stream with a healthy ecosystem of plant and wildlife to a polluted, trash-filled waterway . . . and bank degradation from uneducated trespassers trampling the fragile riparian habitat.” Others bemoaned the impact of such development on the island’s beaver, whitetail deer and bald eagles–the kinds of attractions trumpeted in an ad campaign for the project that asserted, “tourists visit Montana to experience our natural beauty.”

Hogwash, wrote Scott Bosse in an op-ed piece in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. It’s “obvious” that the developer’s “primary motive is to make money off tourists who are willing to shell out a few hundred bucks a night to camp in a high hazard zone on a storied river.”

That was in February, when public comments on the gravel pads application were closed. In early April, the Gallatin County Commission unanimously decided that the project could move forward, with some stipulations. And on June 13 and 14 the Gallatin reached its highest flood stage since the record-setting flood of 1997, cresting at 6.7 feet above normal, nearly 9,000 cubic feet a second of water tearing down both channels of the river and covering much of the island that splits them.

During the public hearings, the glampground’s developer had responded to concerns about flooding by pointing to his planned use of Conestoga wagons. Utilities to the wagons would have quick shut-off couplers, permitting rapid relocation to higher ground. “The whole thing can be done with one staff member in under four hours,” he was quoted by the Chronicle. “We’re talking about less than four minutes for each wagon.”

That seems like an optimistic timetable, but being rousted in the middle of the night so your covered wagon can be hauled out of a river is the very definition of “rustic” and sure to be a hit with the glamping crowd. Now if only there were some way to throw in a buffalo stampede . . . .

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