The small log cabin near Elk Lake has been a summer base for U.S. Forest Service guards and their families and, more recently, an interpretive center for visitors.
And now, 80 years after it was built, the Deschutes National Forest’s Elk Lake Guard Station has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The building, located about 30 miles west of Bend off Cascade Lakes Highway, was added to the list because of the role it played in local events, said David Bogan, communications coordinator for the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office. The building’s application for the National Register notes that the guard station helped make the area a center for recreation.
The 408-square-foot cabin was built during a time when Elk Lake was becoming a popular vacation destination.
Until the 1990s, the building was used every summer by Forest Service guards, who worked under the forest ranger, keeping tabs on activity in the area, providing visitors with information and reporting forest fires.
By the late 1990s, after decades of use, the building was in need of repairs. In 1998, a volunteer group called Friends of Elk Lake began working with the Forest Service to fix up the cabin, putting on a new roof, fixing the chimney and transforming the interior to make it look more like when it was first built.
Les Joslin, a retired Forest Service employee who helped coordinate the restoration effort and now oversees the volunteers who work in the building, said getting the building in shape and protecting it is important because it provides a glimpse into the history of the area around Elk Lake.
“It shows how the Forest Service used to work and operate,” he said. “It was a place the Forest Service used to work from — they were working in the field, living in the field, close to the job.”
Paul Claeyssens, team leader for the Forest Service’s heritage stewardship group, said the volunteers’ work helped make the building something worth protecting.
“Really, what saved the building, like a lot of historic buildings, was finding a new use for it, restoring it,” Claeyssens said. “Putting it on the historic register isn’t enough to save an older building — it really needs to have a life and a purpose.”
In 2002, the guard station was reopened as a visitor center, staffed by participants in the Passport in Time, a volunteer archaeology and historic preservation program. It continues to be open for visitors each summer and is the only Forest Service visitor center along the Cascades Scenic Byway, Joslin said.
As one of the more than 1,800 Oregon properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Elk Lake Guard Station does not fall under any new rules or regulations. But Claeyssens said the designation will help boost the building’s profile and keep it preserved in the future.
“Listing it gives it another notch of significance,” he said. “It becomes a priority asset for the Forest Service to maintain and take care of and continue to make sure it is functioning in its current use as a summer interpretive visitors center.”