Tribe not interested in acquiring resort

·4 min read

Apr. 25—The Nez Perce Tribe isn't interested in Hells Canyon Resort in Clarkston, even though it was identified as a potential buyer of the property in a recently released Lewis Clark Valley Riverboat Needs Assessment.

"(Our enterprise executive officer) confirmed that this is not something we are pursuing at this time," said Kayeloni Scott, a spokeswoman for the tribe, in response to questions from the Tribune about the possibility.

The recreational vehicle resort is owned by entrepreneur Jock Pring. He operates that along with an adjacent marina and former restaurant building, which belong to the Army Corps of Engineers and which he subleases from the Port of Clarkston, port Manager Wanda Keefer said.

The marina is in "disrepair" and needs to be dredged and have docks replaced, according to the more-than-60-page assessment by the McDowell Group paid for in part by the ports of Lewiston, Clarkston and Whitman County.

"A concept being discussed currently is Nez Perce Tribal Enterprises purchasing the property ... and redeveloping it, potentially to accommodate cruise vessels, among other users," according to the needs assessment. "It is a natural fit for the tribe, which recently purchased the Red Wolf Golf Club right across the street from the property and is interested in expanding their hospitality sector."

Partly because of the Nez Perce Tribe's stance, what will happen with the site in coming months is not clear.

Pring said he plans to pursue a renewal for the lease, which Keefer said expires in November. The port would consider relinquishing its lease with the Corps so the Corps could have a direct agreement with whatever party uses the property, she said.

The site could provide more berths for vessels carrying overnight passengers, which presently use two Port of Clarkston docks on a route along the Snake and Columbia rivers with stops in places such as Astoria and Portland, Ore., according to the needs assessment.

"Dock capacity is already strained on peak days, and traffic is expected to grow significantly over the next several years," according to the assessment.

In 2019, before a 2020 COVID-19 hiatus, 19,000 cruise boat passengers visited north central Idaho and southeastern Washington, bringing in about $4 million to area businesses.

Building a third cruise boat dock would ease an expected bottleneck when American Cruise Lines, one of the two major companies that call on Clarkston, doubles its passenger volumes with the addition of two ships in the next several years, according to the assessment.

Hells Canyon Marina isn't the only option for meeting that increased demand.

The Port of Lewiston has a site just downstream from the railroad bridge on the Clearwater River where it might construct moorage for two overnight passenger cruise boats with amenities such as water taxis, restaurants, souvenir stores and nature trails.

The assessment contains a number of other observations, including:

The Port of Clarkston's cruise boat dock near the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater rivers is preferred by cruise lines to its 14th Street dock, which has "an industrial appearance," with a 1938 crane being its most "prominent feature."

The cruise boat dock's advantages include being well maintained, accessible to jet boats that provide Hells Canyon tours and near stores such as Albertsons and Costco for provisions. But it has limitations.

"While the backdrop of the hills across the river is scenic, there is little visual appeal in the dock's immediate uplands area. Beyond the driving range are big-box stores and large parking lots. Cruise line representatives noted the lack of (appealing) retail options in the immediate area."

A cruise boat employee said activities that don't require a lot of walking are important, because the average age of passengers is early to mid-70s.

Backers of the overnight cruise boat industry should support flights between Lewiston and Portland, Ore. Presently the Lewiston-Nez Perce County Regional Airport only has round-trip, non-stop flights, through SkyWest, to Salt Lake City.

The Lewiston-Clarkston Valley has 14 accommodations with 30 or more rooms, but only three are rated at 3 or 3.5 stars and none has a higher ranking. "Several cruise line representatives noted that the quality of local lodging options is a limiting factor to them offering pre- and post-stays, as their guests usually require a minimum of 4-star level accommodations."

The authors mention the overnight cruise boat industry's need for slack water more than once in the document.

The possibility of breaching the four lower Snake River dams has received renewed attention in recent months because of a $33 billion proposal by Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson to do just that to help save salmon runs.

Williams may be contacted at ewilliam@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2261.