Baker Lake Resort to go primitive

By Cora Thomas
posted 7.10.09

Baker Lake Resort, located thirty minutes north of State Route 20 on Baker Lake Road, will soon change.

Resting on land owned by the U.S. Forest Service, and leased and operated by Puget Sound Energy through a special use permit since 1998, the resort will remove some of its built infrastructure for a more “natural” look and increased privacy for campers. The changes are expected to begin after the resort’s season closes in September, since PSE’s permit expires in December 2009. The USFS hopes to reopen the transformed campground for the 2011 camping season.

PSE was meant to relinquish the resort and campgrounds back to the USFS at the end of the lease term; a recent settlement agreement gave the operation of the resort back to the USFS under a new federal operating license—a more appropriate fit, said Roger Thompson, Public Relations manager for PSE.

“We came to a collective agreement about what kind of conditions we wanted to see under the new license,” he said. The new arrangement reflected the consensus that “the business of recreation is better suited for the Forest Service—which already operates a lot of campgrounds—not necessarily for a company like PSE,” whose focus is the generation and distribution of electricity, he said.

According to PSE Recreation Supervisor Pamela Garland, the resort’s decommissioning will include “removing higher-level infrastructure, such as water hookups and showers.”

The property will become a Develop-ment Level 3 Campground under the watch of the U.S. Forest Service, with primitive campsites that include tent sites, picnic tables, fire rings, and water spigots. The cabins, shower facilities, and water and electric hookups for RVs will be torn down and removed, although RV campsites will be available later without water or electricity. PSE will be responsible for demolition of the public buildings, such as the cabins, but administrative and facilities buildings will stay, said Gretta Movassaghi, a Natural Resource Specialist for the USFS. “The resort store is in negotiation, but the boat dock will be available for use after the change,” she added.

The change isn’t drawing applause from all corners, said resort store clerk Sheya Sanchez, who has held her position for four summers and regularly chats with vacationers who have visited the resort for generations.

“It’s kind of sad, since it’s been open so long,” Sanchez said of the resort. “A lot of customers who come up every year are disappointed.”

A legend passes
The resort has a rich history. It was named Tarr’s Resort before Edward and Betty Lemos bought it in 1975, naming it Baker Lake Resort and running it till 1998, when PSE bought it. Lemos was a motivated businessman in southern California, but found he needed to escape the city. The Lemoses and their three children loved the outdoors, so they decided to own and operate a campground.

Charlie Tarr, a family friend, had two decades earlier built and operated what would become Baker Lake Resort. The Lemos family leased the resort from the U.S. Forest Service, which owned the land then and now.

The resort offered a dock, bathhouse, bathrooms, and 12 cabins. Later, the Lemoses built a store, and renovated the bathhouse and other structures.

For the Lemos family, the resort is saturated with memories. In 1975, while the Lemoses prepared to open the resort for the season, officials told them that Mount Baker had the potential to erupt. But, since the danger was not imminent, the Lemos family chose not to evacuate. As the volcanic threat continued, they kept busy painting and repairing buildings.

“There’s no way to prepare for something like that,” said Betty Lemos.

An interesting epilogue to that story took place five years later: Because the Lemos family could empathize with Harry Truman and his beloved Spirit Lake, journalist Dan Rather and a news crew visited the resort after Mount St. Helens violently erupted in 1980.

“Buy a bigger gun”
Betty Lemos has other fond memories of the parties they hosted for resort guests, with music, great food, and lots of dancing. “I wouldn’t have any other business,” Betty said. “We met absolutely wonderful people,” she said.

Betty’s daughter, Sandy Lemos, concurs. “It’s the most beautiful place on God’s green Earth!” she said.

Betty remembers darker moments, too. Once, a group of shady characters almost ran her over with their car. She brandished her gun and they disappeared quickly. When she reported the incident to the police, they responded, “Better buy a bigger gun.” She did.

Ed and Betty now reside in Ocean Park, Wash., and although the Baker Lake Resort of their memories will cease to exist, the sparkling lake will continue to offer a great recreation destination.

The resort will be memorialized, said Movassaghi. “There will be some form of recognition that the Baker Lake Resort existed, with signage perhaps, although the exact form of acknowledgment is yet to be decided,” she said.

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