SANTIAM PASS, Ore. -- In the Willamette National Forest sits a piece of Oregon history. Once a busy stop for outdoor recreationalists, the Santiam Pass Lodge now stands vacant, but one Oregon couple is starting the process of brining back the lodge.
“That's really the character of the lodge, its many windows. And I remember as a kid being in there and looking around at all the windows and it was just beautiful,” says Dwight Sheets, Friends of Santiam Pass Ski Lodge.
The lodge, built in the late 1930s, now sits vacant along Highway 20. It was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, a public work relief program that built many of our nation’s bridges, dams, roads, and public grounds.
In its early life, it served as a place to relax or seek shelter for wintertime skiers and summertime hikers. The lodge was then taken over by a church and used for camps until it was closed in the mid 80s.
“We grew up in Salem, and we grew up going to Santiam Pass and enjoying the area. Skiing. Hiking. Camping. And we would visit the lodge. And that was just normal behavior,” says Sue Sheets, Friends of Santiam Pass Ski Lodge.
After moving away to follow their careers around the country, Dwight and Sue returned to Oregon in 2015. Reminiscing in their happy memories at the Santiam Lodge, they drove up to see the lodge, finding in complete disrepair.
“It's hard to explain, but it was just put on our heart that we need to restore it and bring it back, so that people could enjoy it once again,” Sue Sheets said.
The Sheets took the first steps in bringing back the lodge. They worked with the U.S. Forest Service on getting a permit to restore the lodge and surrounding grounds. After a long wait, they were finally notified by the district and regional rangers that the U.S. Forest Service approved the permit to make the renovations.
“But when we heard about that document, it was exciting. It was exciting, it's a little scary though, it's just like when you bought your first house. You're shaken as you sign it. Dwight. It's like no turning back now,” Sue Sheets said.
The permit has two parts. A 5-year construction permit, followed immediately by a 20-year operational permit. The Sheets plan on breaking the construction phase down into three parts: exterior, interior, and grounds restoration.
The exterior restoration includes making the building sound, restoring the 75 windows, and protecting it from the outside elements including weather, animals, and humans.
“There are a number of really big timbers, constructed of heavy duty timbers. And this rock work was really expertly done by the C.C.C. And I think it has stood up well to the ravages of time,” says Cathy Lindberg, Willamette National Forest.
Lindberg has been familiar with the lodge since the start of her career. Soon after the lodge was closed in the 80s, she evaluated it to be placed on the national register of historic places.
“The lodge is in a moth-ball state, we call it. So it's not been used for many years and so we shutter it up and try to preserve it in state,” Lindberg said.
interior restorations include opening the main and lower levels, restoring the wood floors, and adding public restrooms.
In the final phase, nature trails will be added or restored in the area nearby the lodge, with information posts about the surrounding history and sights.
“The dream is not possible without the support of everyone. And we are honored to contribute to the effort. The lodge survived the B&B Fires in 2003. And so the forest is burnt. But it's regrowing. And that's kind of been our symbol. The forest is coming back, and so is the lodge,” Sue Sheets said.
The Sheets plan to start construction on the lodge in June and are expected to be done in 3-5 years. Anyone interested in helping bring back the lodge can contact the Sheets through the Friends of Santiam Pass Ski Lodge Facebook page or website.