BLACK BUTTE RANCH —

At Black Butte Ranch, the golf courses, restaurants and swimming pools are making preparations to scale back for the slow season.

But there may be no better time than this fall and winter for Central Oregon residents to enjoy a “staycation” at the Black Butte Ranch resort.

Overnight lodging costs are substantially lower than they are in the high season — lodge rooms from $110, ranch cabins and condominium units under $200 and full homes for as little as $245 a night (versus as much as $450 in summer).

And while many sports may be curtailed — no one enjoys playing tennis or riding horseback when sleet blows horizontally — some of the most under appreciated attractions of the ranch welcome visitors at any time of the year, whether by foot or bicycle or cross-country skis.

Specifically, miles of gentle trails cross the 1,830 acres of Black Butte Ranch. They wind around Phalarope Lake and follow a linked series of ponds to the source waters of Indian Ford Creek. They skirt a white-barked aspen grove, its yellow leaves rustling in autumn breezes. They cross the marshy Big Meadow, sharing the grasses with horses and livestock, on a nature trail with viewing areas for dozens of colorful species of birds.

Across U.S. Highway 20, the 6,436-foot summit of Black Butte, the volcanic cone after which the ranch is named, beckons hikers who want a moderately strenuous challenge: A 2.3-mile trail climbs steadily from a parking area on the northwest side of the butte to a fire lookout tower. Its counterpoint is tiny Aspen Lake, in BBR’s South Meadow neighborhood, where super-sized crawfish skitter between submerged rocks so long as they don’t feel the tremble of a footstep along the grassy path that extends just a few hundred yards around the tarn.

Perhaps the most gratifying trail is the one that crosses a long, wooden bridge spanning a marsh beside a beaver pond, next to the 11th and 12th fairways of the Big Meadow Golf Course. It leads to gentle Paulina Springs, which percolates from rocks and earth in a tranquil grove of pine and fir trees. Signs urge intruders to tread the fragile ecosystem here by foot only, a request that the handful of visitors appear to respect.

Indeed, a visit to BBR is all about relaxation. While families do enjoy ranch visits — especially in summer, when all the swimming pools are open and other activities are going full bore — the off-season is devoted to quieter pursuits. Some other Central Oregon destination resorts may thrive on hustle and bustle, but Black Butte prefers its serenity: It even banishes overhead street lights, enhancing a “night sky” program that makes the heavens come alive.

Lakeside complex

The hub of Black Butte Ranch has always been its lodge. From the time Brooks Resources began developing the resort in 1970, this single structure contained executive offices, the fine-dining restaurant and lounge, and a handful of guest rooms.

Over the years, some functions have been relocated and the dining facilities have been renewed. But it wasn’t until this year that BBR fully reinvented the central area beside Phalarope Lake with the opening of its new Lakeside complex.

Three years in the making, the complex comprises a trio of buildings — a bistro, a pool and recreation center, and an activities center. There had long been a swimming pool and snack bar here, but they had gone without an upgrade for many years.

“The premise was this,” said Scott Huntsman, BBR’s general manager since 2008, “how do we bring life back to the heart of the ranch? We wanted to inject new life, draw people back and retain property values.”

Owners — all but 12 of BBR’s 1,251 lots are developed — mobilized behind the proposal. By a whopping 72 percent vote, they approved a $5,000-per-lot assessment to rebuild the Lakeside area. The ranch broke ground the day after Labor Day in 2014, and the Lakeside Bistro opened on June 27, 2015 — on time and on its $11.5 million budget, said sales and marketing director Kendal Daiger.

“I don’t know if the ranch has ever made an investment quite like this,” Huntsman said.

Designed by Hacker (formerly THA) Architects of Portland, built by Kirby Nagelhout Construction of Bend, the complex is made up of complementary modern structures with low, slanted roofs, light pine décor and large windows that accent their spacious feel. Not a single right angle was used.

Bistro and pool

The Lakeside Bistro, which stands nearest to the lodge, is a casual establishment with seating both indoors and outdoors. In summer, diners can watch stand-up paddlers, kayakers and fly fishermen on nearby Phalarope Lake; in winter, they can stay warm beside fire rings. Until spring, the bistro will be serving breakfast and lunch only; salads, sandwiches and a selection of pizzas made it very popular with poolside diners.

The Lakeside Pool is a new water feature, 80 percent larger than its predecessor. With an “infinity pool” design, it ranges in depth from 9 feet down to about 6 inches, or wherever a toddler’s knees fall. One section is reserved for lap swimming, the balance for water play. Not a public pool, it is open only to Ranch residents and registered guests, which of course includes those on “staycation.”

Although the pool closes seasonally, an adjoining outdoor hot tub (with a capacity of 24 bathers) is open year-round. I imagine it as a perfect place to relax after a day of downhill skiing at Hoodoo Ski Area, 13 miles west atop Santiam Pass, or cross-country skiing right at BBR, which has groomed trails across its two golf courses and full nordic equipment rentals as soon as 6 inches of snow falls on the ground.

The pool and hot tub are served by a new recreation center with locker rooms, a weight and fitness room, a co-ed sauna and a retail shop.

Lakeside’s third building is its activity center, whose particle-board walls and bare rafter beams give it an unfinished look. But that’s as intended, leaving it with a casual look. Classes in things like pottery and cooking appeal to children and their parents alike, and there are plenty of other games, crafts and sports equipment rentals, as well as a small playground area.

Golf and riding

My late September visit to Black Butte Ranch came just before many of the recreational activities were curtailed for the season. One chilly morning, I was able to enjoy 18 holes of golf on the Glaze Meadow course, whose $3.75 million renovation in 2012 was acclaimed by Golf Inc. as the country’s best makeover.

Designed by John Fought (whose brother, Jeff Fought, is BBR’s director of golf), the course was at once open and challenging. That was especially true on the third and fifth holes, where my chip shots rolled off hard greens and down short hills into appropriately named Hazard Lake. But the broad fairways of the back nine, flanked throughout by home sites, offered beautiful views of the surrounding Cascade landscapes, and I stopped worrying about my score and simply enjoyed the sunshine and crisp air.

Glaze Meadow closed after play today for seasonal aeration — the oxygenation of greens and fairways. Its companion course, Big Meadow, will remain open until snow falls. Both will reopen in spring.

As I played golf, my companion, photographer Barb Gonzalez, was on horseback. The Black Butte Stables, located beside the resort’s General Store and across Bishop’s Cap road from the Welcome Center, maintains a herd of more than 80 horses. Gonzalez joined co-owner Kristy Prosser on a two-hour ride through Deschutes National Forest land on the east and south sides of the ranch, climbing a low hill to panoramic views toward the Cascade crest.

Prosser and her partner, Cody Koch, bought the riding business in 2010 after years working as wranglers for its former owner. They own all the horses, the tack and the Forest Service use permit. During the peak summer season, they lead trail rides for beginners and longer day trips for more advanced riders. In fall, wilderness pack trips are popular for a clientele that ranges from hunters to overnight campers.

Spa and meals

In the mid-afternoon, we went to The Spa, open year-round within the Glaze Meadow Recreation Center. Deep-tissue and Metolius River stone massages inspired us to take late-afternoon naps before we headed for an evening of dining in the luxurious Black Butte Lodge.

Chef de cuisine Mark Barnes served us a delicious meal that included heirloom tomato salad and ricotta gnocchi starters, followed by coffee-rubbed pork tenderloin and miso Chilean sea bass entreés. A meal of this quality stands up against any fine-dining restaurant in metropolitan Bend.

During its high season, BBR has three main restaurants — the lodge, the bistro and Robert’s Pub, beside the golf course in the Big Meadow Clubhouse — and snack bars and other recreation centers and the Glaze Meadow Clubhouse.

According to Dean Ecker, director of food and beverage here since 2005, dinners are now served only Wednesday to Sunday at the lodge. No decision has yet been made whether to keep evening meals there through Memorial Day, or whether to transfer them to Robert’s Pub before Christmas until the start of the 2016 summer season.

A little history

The acreage upon which Black Butte Ranch now stands was once a swampy territory visited only by migrant Indian tribes, trappers and surveyors. For a time, a pioneer family maintained a 160-acre homestead as a summer residence. Early in the 20th century, according to historian Peggy Lucas, a consortium of cattlemen made this headquarters for their Black Butte Land and Livestock Company, even though their inability to fully drain the marshland made it unproductive for forage grain.

In subsequent years, a timber company took ownership of the area, followed by a wealthy California couple who hired a resident manager to maintain the property as their summer home. The State of Oregon rejected an offer to buy the grounds for development as a state park, but in 1970 the Brooks Scanlon Co., based in Bend with its board of directors in Minneapolis, bought 1,280 acres with a promise to preserve its natural environment as they developed the property.

The Brooks real estate division, led by Mike Hollern and Bill Smith, began developing the property almost immediately. They hired engineers and land planners and put home sites (priced at about $8,000) on the market late in that first summer. In the following year, the lodge was completed, followed by a 9-hole golf course, a swimming pool and tennis courts.

In 1987, Brooks sold the ranch to the 1,001 members of the Black Butte Ranch Homeowners Association, with addresses in 33 states and eight foreign countries. This group continues to own the ranch today; Huntsman, the general manager, explained that he is employed by the board of directors of the homeowners’ association.

The full-time, year-round residential community of about 350 makes up less than 10 percent of the entire BBR community, Huntsman said. A majority of owners come from Portland and elsewhere in the Willamette Valley, and many of them have had a stake in the ranch, through multiple generations of the same families, since its origin.

“But now, we see the baby boomers dwindling,” he said. “The founding generation of property owners is beginning to turn their homes over, while more and more younger families are buying here.”

— Reporter: janderson@bendbulletin.com

(At Black Butte Ranch, after a brief closure for aeration, the Big Meadow Golf Course will remain open for play until snow falls. The indoor pool at Glaze Meadow Recreation Center welcomes resort guests year round. A story in the Oct. 18 Bulletin contained incorrect information about both facilities. The Bulletin regrets the errors.)

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