Restoring a Sisters Country landmark
Last updated 9/28/2022 at Noon
On the east shore of Suttle Lake, the picnic shelter is getting an overdue facelift. Friends of the Metolius and the Forest Service are dedicating time and resources to rehabilitate the common-use shelter for extended use and restoring it to near-original condition.
Built in 1936 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the officially named Cinder Beach Community Kitchen Shelter is a testament to hard work and craftsmanship during the Great Depression. Men were hired to build recreational structures and conduct conservation work as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal legislative efforts to employ young men and bolster the economy.
The effort was nationwide; in Sisters they built structures intended for public use and community gatherings with an eye for conservation. The Suttle Lake picnic shelter was an original structural mainstay before the Suttle Lodge was developed, one of four historical original buildings in the area, and acted as the meeting center for the former camping area.
Archival images show the shelter utilized as a kitchen and community gathering area. Over the years, the structure decayed in the weather and with a degree of neglect started to deteriorate. In 1986, the Forest Service conducted restorative efforts on the roof, replacing a few shakes and purlins. But now, after nearly 90 years in operation, further decay within the structure showed demand for restoration.
Rot has developed on the upper purlins resulting in a sagging roof and compromised function of the shakes that maintain a proper weather seal. The top logs on the back wall showed accelerated decay due to improper flashing of the fireplace around the chimney. And alterations to the fireplace, along with removal of the bilateral cook stoves, resulted in pour ventilation, causing smoke to linger within the shelter and stain the logs with a black, sooty surface.
The decay of the historical picnic shelter garnered the attention of Matt Mawhirter, former district archeologist for the Sisters Ranger District. Of the few remaining historical sites surrounding Sisters, the shelter made his developing list of restorative goals. Of the top three were the Cupola on Black Butte and three cabins along the Metolius River. During his tenure with the District, Matt pioneered efforts to preserve these historical sites by drawing on his personal background as a contractor. But much of his work didn’t happen until Mike Boero filled his position and took up the mantel, ultimately fulfilling his vision.
Boero oversaw the restoration of the Black Butte Cupola in 2019 and fostered the Forest Service’s partnership with the Friends of the Metolius, a volunteer organization based in the Metolius basin, who saw that to completion. That cooperation has continued today with work on the picnic shelter.
“Our resources and time are limited,” said Boero, now acting district archeologist. “So having a working partnership with the Friends of the Metolius is critical to seeing these restorative projects through.”
Boero says the picnic shelter is a valuable community asset, especially with so few remaining historical structures in the area. Even though the National Historical Preservation Act of 1966 created a legal responsibility to preserve sites such as these, Mike says the dedication to preserving these important landmarks goes deeper than a legal obligation. Organizations like the Friends of the Metolius fill a void when the restorative work needs to get done.
“We shouldn’t lose sight of that,” says Boero. “We have limited time and resources at the Forest Service, so having volunteers who can see it to completion is appreciated. It’s definitely the exception and not the rule when it comes to restoring these historical landmarks.”
Friends of the Metolius focuses on restoring historical sites within the Metolius basin and has a long track record of donating innumerable man hours and resources to them. In 2019, they donated over 2000 volunteer hours to restore the 100-year-old D-6 cupola atop Black Butte. The picnic shelter restoration project is expected to exceed 200 volunteer hours by its completion in mid-October, and more than 20 volunteers have given their time to this project.
Initial planning began in fall of 2021, and physical labor early September. Volunteers began by removing rotted logs and decaying parts of the structures. Remaining logs of sound structure were pressure-washed, removing decades of soot and revitalizing the appeal. The southwest corner of the foundation was sagging, so a new concrete footing was poured. Weathered shakes and perlins were stripped from the ceiling and the unsightly plywood from the 1986 repairs removed. Volunteers stripped new logs and installed new heavy beams into place.
Purlins were doubled to provide a more secure foundation for new shakes, and fresh beams were installed to cap the ends for a finished look. Chainsaws made quick work of trimming and fitting logs together.
Local builder Rick Geraths donated his time and log-home building expertise to cut, notch, and form the primary logs into place.
“Without him this project probably wouldn’t happen,” admitted Doug Hancock, president of the Friends of the Metolius.
Donations from Friends of the Metolius and a generous contribution from The Roundhouse Foundation in May 2022 provided the financial resources. The local Corbett family donated their personal tamarack trees to replace rotted logs. Boero says tamarack trees are hard to get and the donation critical.
Despite the decay, the craftsmanship and materials used in the original structure are a testament to its longevity. Modern-day chainsaws and electric tools weren’t an option for the 1930s working crews, so workers used hammers, chisels, and hand saws to shape the structure and fit the log joints - impressively detailed work for a simple picnic shelter. Nearby tamarack wood, dense and durable, was harvested within the vicinity of the shelter. Lanny Schreiner, a retired contractor and head of construction for the project, says that choice of lumber is the reason why the structure held up for so long.
“This wouldn’t be salvageable if it was pine,” he says.
Despite the structure’s sturdy bones and solid lumber, the many years meant the aged edifice still needed help. The structure now incorporates four different lumbers: cedar, fir, tamarack, and now fresh lodgepole pine, each indicating an era of restorative efforts with available lumber. But this restoration will be the most in-depth since its induction nearly 90 years ago.
A letter for fundraising written by Friends of the Metolius states the work will “revitalize the spirit of conservation and community.”
It reads, “Without urgent rehabilitation or restoration, the Community Kitchen will certainly be lost, and with it a legacy of equal recreation access and community.”
For the Forest Service, in partnership with Friends of the Metolius, the work is a critical step in preserving history and those values. The renovation will provide a rehabilitated picnic shelter, close to original design, for visitors to enjoy.