The partial reopening came a couple of weeks after Skamania County moved to Phase 2. The lodge’s restaurant was able to reopen when Skamania County moved to Phase 3 in June, with takeout service from the bar. Weddings and receptions were also allowed to resume.
The Safe Start plan went on an indefinite pause later in the summer, and some of the phase regulations were tightened. At that point, the lodge was restricted to small wedding ceremonies, and closed the bar side of the River Rock Lounge back down.
The biggest economic hit has been the unavoidable loss of business conferences and retreats; the kind of corporate gatherings that used to be one of the lodge’s core visitor groups.
“We’re a resort that relies a lot on group business, and of course that has not returned at all, due to the state regulations,” Owen said.
The other half of the lodge’s traffic is leisure guests, which tends to be families or smaller groups. That side of the business has remained strong, she said, possibly even more so than before the pandemic.
Skamania Lodge’s big business advantage during the pandemic is its wide array of outdoor amenities — hiking trails, zip lines and the treetop aerial park course — that naturally lend themselves to social distancing. With movie theaters, sports stadiums and most other big entertainment venues shut down, the lodge has been able to position itself as a prime getaway destination.
June, July and August are typically the busiest months at the Skamania Lodge Adventures course, according to operations manager Johnathan Johnson. Overall traffic has been a bit lower than usual this summer, he said, but with group sizes reduced in order to enforce social distancing, the course has still been functionally sold out.
“Most years, we’ve been able to operate with people walking in, but this year we’ve been mostly sticking to the schedule,” he said.
The lodge added new health safety measures such as enhanced cleaning protocols and mandatory masks inside the building, and a few indoor amenities such as the pool and sauna are operating under strict occupancy restrictions. But there aren’t any major plans to try to alter the interior or rebuilt it for the pandemic era, she said, because the focus remains on the outdoor activities.
“The whole premise behind Skamania Lodge was to get people out to the (Columbia River) Gorge to enjoy all the things the Gorge had to offer,” she said.
The one outdoor amenity that hasn’t been readily available is the golf course. The lodge is currently in the process of rebuilding its original 18-hole course as a 9-hole version and adding a 2.5-acre putting course.
The new course was originally scheduled to debut in May, with the putting green following suit in July, but the pandemic stalled construction long enough that the project missed a critical window for grass seeding, pushing the opening back to late spring 2021.
By and large, things had settled into a new rhythm by the end of the summer — at least until the smoke arrived. The lodge was never in any direct fire danger, and it was spared from the smoke for the first several days while other parts of Oregon and Washington became blanketed, resulting in a number of last-minute bookings.
“We’ve got people escaping to us because they’re in smokier areas that we are, and then we’ve got others calling to cancel because of the smoke,” Owen said.
The smoke eventually did reach the lodge, hampering outdoor activities for several days. The aerial park and zip lines had to be shut down, Johnson said. The course opened in 2013 and normally operates year-round. This summer marks the first time it’s had shutdowns that weren’t directly weather-related, he said.
Outdoor activities can be an uncertain prospect during the Pacific Northwest’s rainy winter season, but Owen said the lodge typically still sees plenty of hiking visitors during the winter months — and conditions have never gotten muddy enough to prompt a full closure of the trail system.
There will be some challenges, Owen said — group business normally remains strong in the offseason, but the lodge can’t count on that to carry it through the winter this year. The key will be maintaining access to the outdoor activities while keeping the indoors safe and spread out, she said.