Jim Witty

History lurks in the Central Oregon hills. In the summer, many people visit Elk Lake for the recreational opportunities: paddling, fishing, sailing, swimming. Or they stop by the resort for a hamburger and a little something cold and wet on a hot day.

But there's something else going on here at Elk Lake, something fascinating that helps put this sunny Cascades mecca into historical perspective.

The Elk Lake Guard Station was built in 1929, shortly after a wagon road connected Bend and the lake. With the road came a recreation boom; crews built campgrounds, the U.S. Forest Service leased summer home sites and the Elk Lake Lodge swung open its doors.

According to volunteer Carrie Rohn of Portland, the station was built to accommodate a forest guard to provide visitors with information and to report forest fires.

The three-room cabin was built more than 70 years ago and was lovingly restored in 1999 by volunteers. Led by Forest Service veteran and Bend author Les Joslin, they replaced rotten timbers and concrete footings, replaced the notched spruce logs, re-glazed all the windows, replaced broken panes and performed a myriad of other detail tasks.

Five years ago, Joslin told me of his fascination with the old log cabin.

”I started out with the Forest Service in 1962 when I was 19 years old in a 1930s-era one-room office,” he said. ”I just always liked old ranger stations. This one caught my eye a long time ago. It looks real neat. It looks like the Forest Service used to look, like it should look.”

The Forest Service hierarchy changed and the guard station fell into disrepair, seeing only sporadic use by fire teams through the 1970s.

Today, the place is neat and clean and gives visitors a good feel for what life was like in a bygone era. Reopened in 2001, it's staffed all summer by volunteers from the Passport in Time program.

This past week, Rohn, Donna Noyes of Bend and Gail Kolden of Portland immersed themselves in National Forest history, staying at the station and answering questions about the way things used to be.

”It's a great little place,” said Noyes, who spent a lot of time spiffing the place up when she wasn't chatting with visitors. Rohn spun wool into yarn and Kolden knitted.

It's a short jaunt down the old wagon road from the guard station to the lake, where the new and old mesh. Stand between a couple old summer cabins on the shore and you can see the marina where shiny new high-tech sailboats bob in the water.

Just around the corner is the Elk Lake Resort where you can rent a canoe or fishing boat, spend a weekend in a cabin or while away a Sunday afternoon on the deck watching the snow melt on the back side of Mount Bachelor.

Elk Lake, located at 4,893 feet, covers about 390 acres. It's 75 feet in the deepest spot.

To reach Elk Lake from Bend, drive about 30 miles west on Cascade Lakes Highway (11 miles beyond Mount Bachelor).

Watch for a sign on the left that leads you to the Elk Lake Guard Station. The resort is about a quarter mile down the road to the west.

Contact: 480-7228.

Jim Witty can be reached at 541-617-7828 or jwitty@bendbulletin.com .