Owners bring back historic lodge nine weeks after it burned to the ground

POWELL, Idaho - The Lochsa Lodge is rising from the ashes.

The historic lodge, located about 11 miles on the Idaho side of Lolo Pass along Highway 12, burned to the ground on Feb. 28, after sparks from a wood stove chimney ignited the shake roof.

The rustic log structure was built in 1928 by Swedish immigrant Andrew Erickson as a hunting and fishing lodge. For several generations of western Montana residents, it had been a familiar landmark in an isolated neck of the woods, yet not far from home, and a favored getaway for camping, fishing, hunting, hiking, snowmobiling and hot springs hopping.

The Denton family, which has operated the lodge since 1984, was devastated by the fire, which spared a grocery store and 15 guest cabins in the vicinity of the lodge.

But they weren't defeated.

On Friday, with the support and help of family, neighbors and friends far and wide, the Dentons will reopen Lochsa Lodge for business.

Of course, the restaurant menu and the tavern supplies will be limited this weekend. But by next weekend, said owner Susie Denton, everything at the lodge should be operating at full capacity.

That will be just in time for the 10th annual Lochsa River Rendezvous at the lodge on Saturday, May 12. It's a gathering of kayakers, rafters, bikers and other folks who enjoy the Lochsa River, and especially its traditional gathering spot, the Lochsa Lodge.

Guests won't be surrounded by the antiques, the huge natural burl table, the memories, or the warmth of the dual massive rock fireplaces and folksy charm that graced the old lodge. But they'll be able to enjoy the same hospitality that the Lochsa Lodge has always offered.

Starting Friday, in what has become an annual May tradition, the lodge will be serving up Lochsa burgers and cold beers to a group of 50 rugby players from Missoula. They'll dine and drink in a temporary lodge building that Susie Denton's husband, Don, has built since the fire.

He wouldn't have been able to do it, he said, without the tremendous help of family and neighbors, and donations by many friends.

Don and Susie Denton said they didn't realize how many friends they had until the fire.

"We've gotten letters, cards and e-mails from all over the world," said Susie. "They read about the fire in newspapers and on the Internet. I talked to one man from Georgia who called a day or two after the fire. We had a call from England, one from Pennsylvania and one from Florida. They'll tell us some story about when they stayed here, or just say they're sorry. We've had a lot of support."

Donations have come to the Dentons from many sources, Don said.

Northern Energy of Missoula plumbed the temporary lodge restaurant for propane gas for cooking and heating, "as a free service," he said. "They just bailed right in."

Don Stone, owner of Lolo Hot Springs, just down Highway 12 on the Montana side of Lolo Pass, gave the Dentons the old table-booths from his restaurant after a recent remodeling, Don Denton said.

"He's just a nice neighbor," Denton said of Stone. "He calls every day just to see if there's anything else we need."

K and C Foods and Pepsi-Cola Bottling in Missoula also donated their services, he said.

Wayne Fairchild of Missoula, owner of Lewis and Clark Trail Adventures, which operates a whitewater rafting business out of the Lochsa Lodge, brought his rafting crew to help with construction of the temporary lodge, said Don Denton.

And, he added, the local Forest Service personnel have helped them out as well.

"District Ranger Cindy Lane showed up immediately after the fire," Don Denton said. "She helped us with our permit for the temporary building. The Forest Service went out of their way to get us back going."

The temporary lodge restaurant will seat 45, including its outdoor deck, which is actually more than the old lodge, he said.

But plans for a permanent replacement, which will be "very similar" to the old lodge, are already in progress.

"It's going to work out," added Don Denton. "I'm going to start the foundation for the new lodge next week.

"I still can't believe it happened. I'll be looking for something, and go, 'Oh yeah, it burned up.' Just tons of stuff. Mom and dad were in the restaurant business a long time.

"Financially, it's going to be rough. But really, the old lodge's walls were out of whack, the old floor was a foot or two out of level. You couldn't add on to it or improve it. The new lodge will be quite a bit bigger and better. I wish the old lodge was still here. It was unique. That's why we got so many letters and cards, I guess. But it will work out with the new one."

The Dentons are looking forward to another boost from old friends at the Lochsa River Rendezvous on May 12. The event will include live music, food and refreshments. Usually, a couple of hundred people attend, Don Denton said.

He wouldn't be surprised, he said, if a few more folks showed up this year.

Reporter Daryl Gadbow can be reached at 523-5264 or dgadbow@missoulian.com.

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