New lodge, landscape at familiar Camas site

City officials hope it develops into popular spot for social events

By Justin Runquist, Columbian small cities reporter

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CAMAS — More than a dozen years after purchasing an aging Moose Lodge overlooking Lacamas Lake, the city of Camas has revamped the property with a bright new lodge and a fresh landscape.

The 5,000-square-foot Lacamas Lake Lodge opened for business this month on a quiet slice of the lake's south shore. At the heart of the building sits a banquet hall with vaulted ceilings, a stone-lined fireplace and a tall, north-facing wall of windows built next to a covered patio just feet away from the water.

The lodge also houses two conference rooms and a warming kitchen. It's set among several acres of newly planted trees, shrubs and fields of grass near hiking trails, a playground, a new dock and a small, grassy boat launch.

The main space can seat 150 people, and city officials hope it will become a popular venue for weddings, receptions and other parties.

"It's a nice site," said Krista Bashaw, an event coordinator with the city's Parks and Recreation Department. "It's just beautiful."

The property has a long history of recreation stretching back more than eight decades, though its recent reopening marks a notable shift in identity. Virginia Warren, a lifetime Camas resident and the recently retired historian for the city's Community Center, remembers spending her summers in the 1940s swimming across the lake with friends to grab a snack at an old moorage that once stood there.

"It was a lot of fun," she said. "It was a wonderful time."

As early as the 1930s, a man named Ed Barthelemy ran the moorage, Warren recalled. Locals often stopped by to rent boats before heading out on the water to fish or just kick back in the sun, and kids took turns jumping into the water from Barthelemy's dock.

"He had a good business out there for a long time," Warren said. "Everything kind of changes around."

After Barthelemy gave up the property, a new business called Frank's Moorage took over the site, Warren said. Then, a number of years later, the building underwent its conversion to the Moose Lodge.

Finally, the city purchased five acres of land next to the lake, including the Moose Lodge, hoping to eventually remake it into a community center. And for several years, the city rented out the building as it continued to function as a Moose Lodge.

Over the years, the site languished as the building aged. Finally, the city had it torn down last year.

To the city, the property had potential to become the home for the large event venue Camas had been missing for decades. But to some, like Warren, the lodge won't quite live up to that vision.

"Now, to me it's not a community center," she said. "They probably will never have children's programs in there. It's a brand new building, and it's lovely, and they don't want paint all over the floor — as little kids programs do."

A year ago, Mayor Scott Higgins told The Columbian the space addresses the city's need for more meeting spaces, though many residents still wanted a larger venue.

The city's community center operates in a former school house on Seventh Avenue built about a century ago, and some hoped the lodge would be its replacement.

Bashaw and a number of other city employees will continue to work at the community center, and two have moved their offices into the new building.

The lodge is open for the public to see, and the city is looking for parties to make reservations for next month.

The city plans to hold a dedication ceremony for the new venue at 4 p.m. Tuesday with speeches from Higgins and Councilor Tim Hazen, Bashaw said. To RSVP, contact Bashaw at 360-817-7991 or kbashaw@cityofcamas.us.

Lacamas Lake Lodge tour