Lodging in the Parks: Beware the St. Mary Lodge & Resort

Less than a mile from the St. Mary entrance to Glacier National Park, the St. Mary Lodge & Resort is well situated for a stay on the park's eastern border. With Divide Peak rising high overhead, and Divide Creek babbling along the property, the resort normally is a good basecamp. But a recent stay pointed to some serious problems.

I was so impressed with a 2005 stay at the resort while working on National Parks With Kids that I wrote, "the best accommodations in or out of the park can be found here on the east edge of Glacier National Park. Owner Roscoe Black (who since has sold the resort) has built himself quite an empire. Overall the accommodations are very nice, those in the Great Bear Lodge are excellent -- roomy with large bathrooms, comfortable beds, wet bars, Western and Arts and Crafts style decor, and balconies overlooking Divide Creek, whose rippling waters will serenade you to sleep."

So pleased was I with that stay that I later put my in-laws up at the lodge, and they, too, had an enjoyable stay.

A recent stay, sadly, blew a gaping hole through that earlier praise.

When I placed a call to the resort not quite two months out from a late-July visit, my options for a room were understandably limited, as reservations usually are -- and should be -- made months in advance. But a relatively spur-of-the-moment business trip took my wife and I to Glacier, and so I figured a stay at the resort made sense, particularly since all the in-park lodging was full.

While the reservations clerk told me all they had left were "small sleeping rooms" in the main lodge building, one that's been around for decades, I figured that would be OK, since we'd be spending our days out in the park and only use the room for sleeping. And a blurb on the lodge's website makes the rooms sound OK for such use:

Every room is nicely equipped with either one or two beds, a desk, table and chair, private bath and no television.

Upon check-in we discovered that Room 321 was indeed small -- big enough only for a queen bed, small desk, and a tiny bathroom. And while the desk's paint was chipped and its drawers lacking pulls, that was OK, too, as were the pipes that ran just below the stained ceiling tiles and the view of ventilation fans out the window.

But then we discovered that the linoleum bathroom floor tiles were "squishy." The problem, I discovered later that evening, was that the spray from the shower head was so forceful that it blew the flimsy cloth shower curtain out of the shower stall ... along with torrents of water that flowed across the bathroom floor.

It was quickly obvious why the floor was spongy -- the sub-floor likely was soaked from repeated showers since the start of the summer season -- and closer inspection showed signs of what possibly was a growing mold issue along the outside of the shower stall.

Going down to the front desk to explain the problem, I learned that lobby ceiling fixtures below the room recently had been leaking water. I also learned that there was no other room in the lodge for us to be relocated to, in part because the lodge had somehow overbooked its accommodations.

The next morning the front desk manager, a young woman named "Florie," acknowledged that they were aware that there were problems with the room. She also said that after some searching of her computer system she had found a "similar type room" they could move us into later that afternoon. Rather than chance another encounter with the plumbing, however, we decided to check out and move on.

While Florie might have understood our concerns -- other front-desk staff who overheard our conversation later said they did -- she not only refused to refund our previous night's charge, but also refused to waive the second night's charge, noting the lodge's "30-day cancellation policy" and the availability of a similar sleeping room.

Our short stay raised a couple of questions:

* Why had the lodge kept Room 321 available, even though officials seemingly were aware of the plumbing problems?

* Had maintenance personnel not been notified by other guests or housekeeping staff about problems with the shower overflowing, or inspected the source of the water coming through the ceiling fixtures? Certainly the spongy floor was too obvious for housekeeping staff not to notice when cleaning the bathroom, and I know I'd be curious about the source if my kitchen lights were dripping with water.

* Why was Florie so adamant not to issue a $130 refund for a room that, in light of the plumbing problems and potential mold issues, quite easily could have been deemed uninhabitable, and whose continued use would continue to create leakage problems into the lobby's ceiling and fixtures, leaking that could prove highly costly to address if the sub-floor in Room 321 needs to be torn out and replaced and if mold has spread into the lobby's ceiling and walls.

Is the resort's reputation not worth more than $130? Are they concerned about both the experience and the health of their clientele, not to mention maintenance and upkeep of their facilities?

Hopefully, the resort will address these issues. But until they do, the reputation of the St. Mary Lodge & Resort will be sullied.

P.S. -- Why does the resort blare country music across its parking lot?

Comments

I totally agree you should have been refunded "all" your money for a very unsatisfactory stay...Places like this get many college kids who don't care about things like mold or dripping water (those who stay and/or work there) and money is the bottom line for the owner so it just keeps on happening...over booking is common and with unskilled labor it all amounts to a poor stay...what can be done...there is always a unsuspecting guest on the heals of the last one so why should they care...perhaps the health inspectors should be notified...

My husband and I had a similar experience at the "resort". The "only available room" sounds identical to yours but was in a basement, I believe. Very dark, damp, stuffy. We were told it was usually rented to through-hikers who didn't mind. We refused to take the room and moved on to take our chances on finding a room elsewhere...which I might add was no easy task but better than the cellar. Like you, we had a good experience there in the past but won't stay there again.

That is a darn shame!!! They should have refunded your fees and made sure those rooms were not available to the public. They are probably in violation of several laws and should do something about that mold. And blaring country music across the parking lot???? Are they trying to scare off bears or what. Well, we'll take that one off our list. We stayed at the KOA campgrounds there in 1984 with our kids and loved it. We live in Montana now and have been back up to Glacier a couple of times. It is one of my dreams to stay in one of the lodges up there, guess it won't be that one!!!! Thanks for sharing this information!

How in the world did a resort with greed as its business ideal get associated with a great st. Like Mary the Mother of God?

I'm a tent camper and very unconcerned about this, but it is often hard to imagine how any employees in these places enjoy their work. Except for the beautiful views outside their door, working in a National Park over the summer is one grind in which I want no part. If you got management that's greedy and unconcerned with customer service, how much the worse.

onebigtree:
I'm a tent camper and very unconcerned about this, but it is often hard to imagine how any employees in these places enjoy their work. Except for the beautiful views outside their door, working in a National Park over the summer is one grind in which I want no part. If you got management that's greedy and unconcerned with customer service, how much the worse.
I think it depends on the individuals. Many are college students, including a lot recruited overseas. I remember a desk clerk at Roosevelt Lodge in Yellowstone. Every employee wore a name tag with their hometown. His hometown was in Finland, and he seemed genuinely happy to be there, even if it meant wearing some hokey western shirt and a cowboy hat. I also remember eating at the Yellowstone Canyon soda fountain a few times, where there was an otherwise retired gentleman from Florida who was serving people from behind the counter, laying it thick with the charm and a southern accent.

Then again - I've told the story of the (sole) server at Bryce Canyon Lodge who encountered a late lunch rush, went ballistic with all the complaints about the food, and finally AWOL with the manager taking over for her.

I can't say anything about the lodging, as I have no experience, but the food at their restaurant was very well prepared and a good buy for the price when we visited 1 and 2 years ago.

Kurt, if you paid with a credit card, you should contact the credit card company and find out how to start the appeal process. Usually, as I recall, you have to submit a complaint in writing. Believe it or not, the credit card compnanies do hold some leverage with these people as they will have a tough time staying in business if VISA or Mastercard should drop them. Usually, just the threat of such an action will cause the company to refund the charges as it is not worth their time and money to respond against your challenge. You would also do well to try to figure out who owns the lodge and write a letter of complaint similar to the one above, including how you were a loyal customer up until now. As to the manager you dealt with, she may well have not had the authority to do what it takes to make things right. I'm not defending her for not making an effort to obtain that authority, but a complaint to the ownership with a reference to this web site may go a long way in getting things settled. But I would hesitate in referencing the web site except as a last resort, and only after you are certain that everything you said is as it happened.

We recently had lunch in the St. Mary's Lodge restaurant. The place was nearly deserted. The food was ok but that MUSIC??? was awful! Indeed, why such loud music outside a National Parks area lodge?

R Stefancik:
You would also do well to try to figure out who owns the lodge and write a letter of complaint similar to the one above, including how you were a loyal customer up until now.
It took a little digging up on their website, but it's owned and/or operated by Delaware North Companies. I found it extremely odd too, since most DNC websites clearly display the DNC logo and information at the bottom of each web page. For whatever reason, they've left that nearly completely from their website, except for one press release.

http://www.stmarylodgeandresort.com/PressReleases_current.php

For more information, contact:
Walt Kochansky, General Manager
St. Mary Lodge & Resort
(406) 732-4431
or
Glen White, Delaware North Companies,
Corporate Communications/Public Relations
(716) 858-5753

http://www.delawarenorth.com/

Actually, it's no longer owned by DNC. The current owner is Johnny Noe.

Kurt Repanshek:
Actually, it's no longer owned by DNC. The current owner is Johnny Noe.
I guess that would explain the layout of the website. I would suggest to them to clean up their website to at least note it's no longer a DNC property.

And CAPTCHA says "sequential overeat". That's making me hungry.

Thanks for posting this review Kurt. Although the NPS gives park concessioners a "report card" of sorts each year, this information is seldom made readily available to the public. What is sorely needed is a Consumer Reports review and rating of experiences and costs of park lodging and campgrounds inside and near our great parks. Such a review would have a noticeable effect, I'm sure. In the meantime, I hope that National Parks Traveler would be brave enough to continue to post reviews, both positive and critical. In your personal case, I do hope that you get reimbursed for an unsatisfactory lodging experience.

pkrnger:
Thanks for posting this review Kurt. Although the NPS gives park concessioners a "report card" of sorts each year, this information is seldom made readily available to the public. What is sorely needed is a Consumer Reports review and rating of experiences and costs of park lodging and campgrounds inside and near our great parks.
"Consumer Reports"? I always take anything they write with a steady dose of skepticism. I remember reading their test procedures on subjects that were important to me and couldn't stop laughing at how amateurishly they set their criteria and testing procedures. I also haven't heard of them rating lodging options.

However - there are review sites:

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g45345-d91370-Reviews-St_Mary_Lodge_Resort-Saint_Mary_Montana.html

St Mary Lodge gets an average two stars and a whole boatload of complaints for the condition of rooms and the attitude of the staff.

I have checked www.traveladvisor.com and have found the reviews, in general, to be consistent with the negative review given by Kurt on his recent visit. I'm surprised they can stay in business. I hope Kurt gets his money refunded.

I had same kind of experience at Cedar Grove Lodge in Kings Canyon.It was like a skid row motel,dirty, noisy, lousy CSR's I could go on.

I worked at st marys this year for 1 month, July and was shocked at the attitude of management, the owners in how their lack of CARE for the guest. They want your money, and with a 30 day non refundable policy, you are giving them that right to deny you a refund. Johnny Noe loves to call his lawyer, and will rip you off from any discount you should think you deserve. There is no refund, even contractors who are owed money don't get paid. They are paying employees 7.25 an hour, and housing is 385. a month, we're not paid enough to help you get a message to the owners. The nicest accomodations are the great bear, anything else is motel quality, and shotty workmanship. IF you book here, don't expect your money back or a discount.

I think all these comments should be sent to Johnny Noe - does he understand the following that you have here on "National Parks Traveler".....word of mouth is EVERYTHING and it will definitely spread and business will be dwindling for sure. I certainly would not stay there on your word and will tell friends not to either.
I worked at YNP for Xanterra and I really don't believe any of the employees should be faulted.....I went for a fun summer (and I'm not a kid) and was hassled from the first week. Quit the second week. They treat their employees terribly. Barely pay the foreigners (mostly kids) enough to get home by the time expenses are paid....I know this place isn't run by DNC any longer but it sounds like they still hire kids for the summer. I had figured my pay rate x 40 hrs minus taxes, R&B etc, and I was clearing about $8.00 wk....so what can one expect.

Since the Black's sold the resort it has gone TOTALLY downhill. I've heard similar comments/complaints for over a year now. Main problem = all the owner wants is your $. And who, making reservations from all over the country, would expect such conditions & service (and ATTITUDE). They're stuck once they get there because there are very few "options". I think contacting the credit card companies is maybe the best option to "get their attention".

Jane

I read all of these reviews and must say to Michelle "thank you for your comments, it is amazing that you do not mention that you tried to steal $200 before leaving....I guess we know where your morals are. Also be fair the $85 a week I charge is for food and housing, there are no additional charges." As for being better when the Blacks owned the resort, that is the first time I have heard that one, but thank you for the comments. Now to get to the point, the rooms in the Main Lodge are not nice and for sure the client has to look at the room before checking into it to make sure they personally accept the room. Now if the front desk staff did make the extra charge please call the resort and ask them to refund that charge and you can tell them to call me; Johnny Noe. I will let them know to refund that difference, I heard about this case and since then maintenance told me they ripped out the floor and put a brand new one in, that building is 80 years old so maintenance is a constant challenge. Have a nice day.

Wow. My family and I have stayed at the resort a number of times over the past 10 years (the most recent Sep 2007). It sounds like the change of ownership has completely changed the quality of the place. My stays were pretty good (we stayed the newest addition; Great Bear Lodge?.. and the view and rooms were very nice). However, the restaurant was overpriced and the food was nothing special. And the staff... a bunch of foreigners, most of them didn't speak a lot of English. In a word, rude. Thanks to all the folks who posted reviews. I will not be staying at the resort until they fix things.

Anon @2:36/14 Aug,

If it is Mr. Noe replying in that post... you may want to skip pointing fingers at your employees when answering complaints by a bunch of customers. If you jump over to TripAdvisor.com (and do a search on resort in question), there are a slew of recent complaints about the St Mary Lodge and Resort.