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Three Bear Lodge in West Yellowstone Reopens After Natural Gas Explosion;
Creative Recycling of Old Building Incorporates History

By Brett French, Billings Gazette, Mont.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Dec. 19, 2009--WEST YELLOWSTONE -- A year and a half after a natural-gas explosion decimated a portion of the Three Bear Lodge, a new facility was reopened that pays respect to the old building.

Wood from portions of the structure at 217 Yellowstone Ave. that were demolished has been crafted into furniture at the new facility, including beds, headboards, tables and nightstands.

"It's really got some character," said Clyde Seely, owner of Three Bear Lodge and the designer and builder of the furniture. "We call it Yellowstone's newest attraction."

The fire started about 7 p.m. Feb. 15, 2008.

"It was pretty bad, they fought the fire all night," said Laura Newman, a clerk at the lodge.

No one was seriously injured. A lodge worker, after smelling gas, had moved people out of the area that burned, and many patrons were out to dinner at the time of the blast.

"A lot of people lost some stuff, a few had smoke inhalation, but nobody got hurt," Newman said.

Rather than rebuild or tear down just the damaged section, Seely decided to remove the entire structure and start over.

"The whole thing I've done out of, you might say, putting my life back together," Seely said.

The Three Bear Lodge has a long history in the small community at the West Entrance to Yellowstone National Park. The original structure was built in 1932. In 1944, Frances Wilson bought it for $25,800. He added cabins and in 1950 a more modern hotel section. Seely started working there in the laundry room at age 19; he and Linda Seely bought the lodge in 1970.

All told, the facility had three sections of motel rooms, a lodge and restaurant. Only one U-shaped, two-story section of the motel, with 29 rooms, was affected by the fire.

"When we rebuilt it, I wanted it to look like a lodge with interior hallways," Seely said.

In demolishing the old, damaged structure, huge beams and 2-by-6 tongue-and-groove rough-cut pine were salvaged. Now, instead of providing structural support for roofs, floors and walls, the boards are styled into rustic-looking headboards, mirror frames and towel racks. There's even a "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" themed suite with a separate area for the baby bears.

"We really maximized every bit of wood," Seely said, even building the 30-foot-by-60-foot shop in which the furniture was constructed.

All told, the motel complex has 70 rooms, with 26 in the main lodge. The lodge was designed by CTA Architects Engineers in Bozeman and built by RMR Group, formerly Rocky Mountain Rustics, of Big Sky. Construction was completed in July.

Even the two-story fireplace at the lodge's entrance reflects Seely's history. The volcanic rocks came from his boyhood farm in St. Anthony, Idaho.

"It's been kind of fun," Seely said. "It's unique in every way."

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To see more of the Billings Gazette, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.billingsgazette.com.

Copyright (c) 2009, Billings Gazette, Mont.

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