Joe Peak always worked in community recreation. As the proprietor of the Enaville Resort, in a sense he still does.
The century-old bar and restaurant, also known as the Snakepit, is as much a part of a tour of the Silver Valley as a ride on the gondola or a walk through the Sierra Silver Mine.
“Let’s admit it, people are looking for something other than plastic city. They want to see the real Idaho. And this place is a landmark,” said Peak, who has owned the resort for the past 20 years.
Fire destroyed the first structure, but the business dates to the 1880s, when Enaville was a bustling railroad layover connecting two lines, and served as a terminus for log drives. The “new” resort dates back to at least 1911.
In the 1960s, when Peak was studying Outdoor Recreation at the University of Wyoming, he could hardly have envisioned how he would be using his degree.
“I was interested in kids from day one,” he said. “In high school and college I worked with youth sports teams, coaching and working in programs.”
Peak received his “greetings and salutations” from the Army five days after he graduated from college in January 1969. He completed officer candidate school at Fort Belvoir, Va., in May 1970, and flew back to Wyoming to marry his sweetheart, Rose Mary. Not long afterward, the couple shipped out to Fort Richardson in Alaska.
“They immediately made me assistant swim coach for the kids on the base,” Peak said.
In addition, he served as sports officer for a time, running an $8 million sports complex and directing all sports programs for 5,000 military workers.
Peak’s three children were born in Alaska. Between 1970 and 1974, he worked his way up through the ranks to captain. In 1974, when he was discharged, accepted a civilian position at Fort Richardson basically identical to the one he’d been filling.
“I was director of youth activities,” he said. “Really, I was like a father to some of those kids. The youth center was their second home.”
Peak served in that capacity until 1978, when the country shifted into peacetime mode. Many civilian jobs were being downsized.
“I started talking with a friend of mine about buying a resort and going into business for ourselves. We looked into certain areas. North Idaho appealed to both of us, even though neither one of us had ever been here,” he said.
Peak’s friend, John Florent, flew into Spokane to look around.
“He said the minute he came in this door it hit him - this was the place,” said Peak, who flew in from Alaska two days later to sign the papers.
The transition wasn’t easy. Peak, his family and Florent moved into the second floor of the building, sharing the place with logging crews who rented the remaining rooms.
Peak and Florent got a crash course in business management. In the late ‘70s business was booming. They had their hands full learning the trade and keeping hordes of miners and loggers happy. Then in the early ‘80s, the Valley began seeing a weakening timber market, as well as the demise of some of its mines.
“Those were grim times,” Peak said. “There wasn’t enough money in the business to support both of us. John had other interests, so we made arrangements to buy him out.”
Peak and his family have run the resort since, building their customer base slowly and steadily by hard work, careful promotion and word-of-mouth. They burned their mortgage last May.
“I think the secret is continuity,” Peak said. “This place has only had five owners in a whole century. You just don’t find that in the food and beverage business. It kind of lets you put your personal stamp on it.”
Busy as the resort keeps him, Peak always has made time for kids. He served on the school board for six years, refereed boxing, and worked on the chain crew at Kellogg’s home football games. He became active in youth basketball the year after he arrived, and when Kellogg’s YMCA closed, took it upon himself to spearhead the program with Chris Wellman. The two have run it ever since.
“It takes a lot of time and effort, but I guess if this place is my vocation, kids are my avocation,” Peak said. “I just try to help out any way I can.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo
MEMO: Bekka Rauve is a freelance writer who lives in the Silver Valley. Panhandle Pieces appears every Saturday. The column is shared among several North Idaho writers.