April 11, 2013 in Washington Voices

Churches ponder future of Liberty Lake lodge

Zephyr could be sold
By The Spokesman-Review
 
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John Loucks, a board member with the Christian Conference Center, stands outside the historic Zephyr Lodge at Liberty Lake.
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The historic Zephyr Lodge on the eastern shore of Liberty Lake may go up for sale this summer after years of declining income.

“It’s so peaceful here,” said John Loucks, who heads the board that oversees the property for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) congregations that own it. “It’s like a sanctuary.”

Membership at the 13 churches has been getting older and dwindling in recent years. There are fewer children to attend summer camps – once the bread and butter of Zephyr. In recent years churches have also struggled with declining donations, which leaves little for the property of more than 50 acres located within shouting distance of Liberty Lake Regional Park.

“The usage is down,” Loucks said. “Churches are not able to commit as much money.”

In addition to the lodge, which has more than a dozen bunk beds in upstairs rooms, there is a dormitory and several small cabins. Organizers have tried hosting reunions, weddings, conferences and other events to earn more money. It was opened to summer camps run by other religious denominations.

“We’ve given it a big try,” Loucks said.

But the lodge is more than 100 years old and expenses are piling up. The porch railings need work and people aren’t allowed on the upper porch due to safety concerns. The water tower needs work. It costs about $4,500 a month to pay the bills. “That does not include the crisis situations that come up,” he said. Last year the board had to borrow money to buy a new industrial dishwasher, replace the rickety bridges that provide the only access to the second floor of the dormitory and fix the leaking water tank.

The lodge, which features a double-decker wrap-around porch, was built in 1900 by miner Charles Traeger. He built it as a roadhouse and booze, women and games of chance reportedly filled the building in the early years.

“There was a lot of bootleg booze coming down from Canada,” Loucks said. “I do not doubt, really, that this probably had some other activity going on upstairs. It could have been a speakeasy. It could have been a bordello. Who knows?”

After Traeger married, the lodge quieted significantly and became known for its chicken dinners instead of its debauchery. People also came for the dance pavilion built over the water. The Catholic Church once made arrangements to buy the property, but it reverted back to Traeger’s widow when it wasn’t paid for. It was sold to the Ninety and Nine Disciples of Christ men’s group in 1946, which transferred ownership to the regional churches.

Loucks said 12 of the 13 churches have voted to sell and the final church is expected to vote soon. A regional meeting is planned for later this month to finalize plans for the lodge’s future. The first item on the to-do list is to get an appraisal on the property, which includes a half mile of shoreline and a dock. Loucks said there is a group of people interested in buying the property, preserving the lodge and turning it into a club that offers dinners and dances. But there is also a group of church members that don’t want the property sold.

“They think if we just did more, we could turn this around,” he said.

Loucks, who said he fell in love with Zephyr years ago, is conflicted. “I’m torn,” he said. “I’m a person who loves this environment. This is gorgeous. I would hate to have it turn into more housing. But on the other hand I’m very realistic.”

There are other options to consider. The board could decide to sell some of the property and keep the lodge, something that has been done before. The grounds include a softball field, a volleyball court, trails and an outdoor chapel on a rocky bluff overlooking the water.

But if the property sells, the proceeds could be used to create a foundation to fund scholarships for church camps or seminary school, Loucks said. “The legacy of Zephyr could go on for eternity,” he said.

The property might also attract the attention of Spokane County, which owns Liberty Lake Regional Park. Spokane County Parks and Recreation Director Doug Chase said he wasn’t aware the property might be for sale. Without knowing any details, it’s too soon to know if the county might be interested in buying it, he said. “I think we would be remiss in not looking into it,” he said.

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