News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Santiam Lodge restoration continues

Eighty years ago, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) completed construction of a new recreational ski lodge at the summit of Santiam Pass. The unique architecture is characteristic of six ski lodges built by the CCC in the Pacific Northwest. For nearly a half century thereafter, the Santiam Pass Ski Lodge offered outdoor recreation opportunities, first as a public skiing area, hiking center, highway stopover and rest area and, later, as a church camp.

It all ended in 1986, when the lodge was shut down. So, for the next 32 years, the lodge sat empty and deteriorating. Firefighters were able to save the historic structure during the 2003 B & B Fire, which scorched over 90,000 acres in the area. Hope for a new chapter in the lodge’s history began two years ago when Dwight and Susan Sheets obtained a special-use permit from the Willamette National Forest to restore the lodge, and Friends of Santiam Pass Ski Lodge was born.

“We both grew up in Salem and spent a lot of time on the Santiam Pass skiing, hiking and backpacking,” Sue Sheets said. “We visited the lodge when we were younger and always loved the place. As time went on we became frustrated that year after year the lodge was falling into an increasing state of disrepair.” And so, she explained, that sentiment led to their involvement in the project. “It seemed like this was a worthy project that would both bring the lodge back to public service and improve the experience of visitors to the Santiam Pass.”

With funding from grants, donations and donated in-kind work, efforts were soon underway to restore the lodge; and the Sheets put together an ambitious five-year restoration plan.

“It was pretty much on track until this year,” Dwight Sheets said. “The COVID-19 pandemic will put us about a year behind.”

Still, work has not come to a complete halt. Dwight reports that, “Sisters contractor Don McCreight and his crew will begin repairing dry rot and other structural issues that must be addressed to provide structural integrity through the winter.”

He said that work is scheduled to begin this month.

Sue added, “We have come to the conclusion that the worst thing you can do for a structure is to not live in it. This is why before full operation we hope to be able to open up in some limited way for winter recreationalists.”

In order to be closer to their project, the Sheets have moved to Sisters.

When asked what was next in their plan for the lodge, Sue said, “Initially the lodge will be a place for snowshoers and Nordic skiers to get warm and explore the structure. In order to do this we need electric power and the chimney flues repaired.”

They are pleased with the progress thus far.

“2019 was a very good year,” Dwight said. “Donations from the public were extremely helpful, and in addition we received generous grants from the Oregon Cultural Trust, the Oregon Community Foundation, The Kinsman Foundation, State Historic Preservation Office, and Restore Oregon.”

Private contractors have made large in-kind donations. Stayton Wood Windows in Stayton, Oregon, restored about two thirds of the windows. Alpine Abatement Associates in Bend cleaned the lodge, did asbestos abatement work and removed exterior additions that were not original. Also, Moisan Construction and Electric, from Keizer, trenched 800 feet from Big Lake Road to the lodge, installing conduit and vaults for a new electric system.

“We had a great deal of momentum entering 2020 and expected to be able to jump directly into the work as soon as the snow cleared in the spring,” Dwight said. “But, in March, the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing state lockdown halted this momentum.”

In-kind donors delayed scheduled work and the capital campaign was paused in mid-March, since they decided it was not appropriate to continue active fundraising during a very difficult time. Six promising grants were either dropped or repurposed for those negatively affected by the pandemic. However, Dwight went on to explain, “We should note that donations from the public have continued, and we greatly appreciate that. We also have some promising grants pending and good possible funding sources, so we are optimistic about the future.”

The couple is concerned that the lodge is still quite vulnerable.

“The goal of Phase One of the project is to restore the exterior so that it has structural integrity, is sealed from the elements and animals, and all deterioration is stopped,” Dwight explained.

This will require addressing some structural issues, plus repairing or replacing siding, installing windows, providing a new cedar shake roof, and sealing the foundation and chimney. The original stone for the seven-foot-high foundation and 35-foot chimney was quarried from nearby Hogg Rock. The completion of this next phase will bring the structure back to the exterior appearance it had when it was first built in 1940. The goal is now to have this phase completed by the fall of 2021.

In the early years, alpine skiers parked their cars on Highway 20 and had to ski over a mile to Hoodoo Ski Area.

During that time the lodge provided food and overnight lodging.

The couple has enjoyed learning even more about the old structure when people stop by to check on the project.

“Some days at the lodge we have a steady stream of visitors who come to see the building and progress on the restoration efforts,” Sue said.

“We love this! We have met many people who have a history with the lodge going back to the 1940s.

Some have told us about how they learned to ski at the lodge, or took backpacking trips with lodge personnel into the Jefferson Wilderness and back.

More than one couple has pointed out the location at the lodge where they got married.”

As restoration continues, the lodge’s major structural components have been found to be in remarkably good condition. The goal is to restore Santiam Pass Ski Lodge to its original look and feel so it can again be used as a multipurpose community center. The lodge’s close proximity to Highway 20 will allow it to serve Santiam Pass travelers as a warm, rustic place for hikers, skiers, sightseers, and casual visitors to congregate and rest.

In October of 2018, the Santiam Pass Ski Lodge was officially added to the National Register of Historic Places. Plans are for the lodge to be used for informational purposes and for adjacent trails to provide educational and recreational activities, as well as themed events highlighting music, visual arts, theatre and culinary arts. Once completed, the lodge would also be available to the public for activities such as weddings, anniversaries, reunions, business meetings, religious groups, clubs, and other organizations.

For more information about the project see or their Facebook page. Donations can be made on the website or by mail to P.O. Box 1135, Sisters, OR 97759.


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