OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK — Wind-whipped waves smash upon the pebbly beach outside Lake Crescent Lodge’s picture windows, giving guests an exciting autumn view.
This is the second year in a row visitors to the historic lodge, located just off U.S. Highway 101 about 25 minutes west of Port Angeles, have had the opportunity to see this cold-weather scenery from inside — and partake of two months of holiday events.
The lodge used to close from the end of October until late April or the beginning of May.
Now everything is open through New Year’s Day — the lakeside Roosevelt fireplace cabins, award-winning restaurant, canoe rentals and gift shop, the woodsy lobby where guests can play cards in front of a crackling fire and the glassed-in porch where, to the sound of lapping waves, you can enjoy a microbrew.
Todd Gubler, the lodge’s general manager since 2011, is the driving force behind this change.
‘Good first year’ in ’13
He said 2013 was “a good first year,” with Thanksgiving dinner a sell-out and other events drawing well.
“The big challenge is changing people’s minds over to the fact that the lodge is now open,” said Gubler.
His goal is to build what he calls a “shoulder season business,” a more relaxed time after the lodge’s extremely busy summer season that draws guests from across the globe.
“It’s something I have wanted to do since the end of my first year here,” Gubler said, noting that the lake’s clouds and landscape make “mesmerizing views” available only in the colder seasons.
“Lake Crescent is where locals bring their visiting friends and family to see the area’s natural beauty,” he said.
And the extended season is designed with local residents in mind.
Special room rates
Events at Lake Crescent Lodge are created with hopes they will become traditions that draw residents from across the North Olympic Peninsula year after year.
A murder mystery with guests playing the roles kicked off the lodge’s events in late October and included a lavish meal for costumed attendees.
At 2 p.m. every Saturday through Dec. 27, the lodge hosts tea parties where guests “learn the history of the teddy bear and two presidents who influenced Olympic National Park.”
Traditional Sunday brunches with appearances and pictures with Santa Claus are Dec. 7, 14 and 21.
Holiday meals are offered on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, and all the events are coupled with overnight room packages.
There is a $79-a-night “locals-only” room rate this month and other specials posted at http://tinyurl.com/lakecrescentspecials.
Gubler’s favorite holiday event is the “Lighting of Lake Crescent,” scheduled for Nov. 29.
Beginning at sundown, the festivities herald the Christmas season with singing carolers, festive drinks, a visit from Santa Claus and turning each building’s decorative lights on for the winter.
For more information on events and room specials, phone 360-928-3211 or 888-723-7127, or visit www.olympicnationalparks.com.
Staying open has benefited local businesses, too.
The lodge has a contract with Gross’s Nursery of Port Angeles for poinsettias, garlands and other holiday decor.
PenPrint Inc., also in Port Angeles, is responsible for creating the large volume of menus and fliers.
Lake Crescent Lodge has earned several awards for its environmentally conscious practices and is run by Philadelphia-based Aramark Corp., which does business in 22 countries around the world and manages lodges and gift stores in other national parks.
Aramark also operates Log Cabin Resort and Fairholme General Store on Lake Crescent, plus visitor services at Hurricane Ridge and the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort and Lake Quinault Lodge.
Summer is extremely busy every day.
The offseason is a time when the staff can really focus on the guests’ experience because of the “luxury of time,” Gubler said.
“That’s when we get to do hospitality the right way,” he said.
Employees are often recruited from other national park facilities for the summer boon, yet this late season is attended to by residents living mostly in Forks and Port Angeles.
Gubler, 41, is vice president of the Olympic Peninsula Visitor Bureau and a voting member representing Clallam County in the Olympic Tourism Commission.
Last January, he received the “Member Extraordinaire” award from the Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce for his efforts to implement the longer operating season at the lodge.
“I came here on accident, but I stay here by choice,” said Gubler, who has worked previously in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas.
In the past year, he’s purchased a little farm in “the up-and-coming neighborhood” of East Indian Valley, a rural vale about halfway between downtown Port Angeles and Lake Crescent Lodge.
He credits former Port Angeles Mayor Cherie Kidd as being one “who went above and beyond to welcome me and make me feel welcome.”
He said Diane Schostak, former executive director of Olympic Peninsula Visitor Bureau, and Edna Petersen, owner of Necessities and Temptations gift shop in downtown Port Angeles, have been his personal heroes and encouraged him to get involved in the local community.