Doug Williams has spent 61 of his 69 years at Whistlin’ Jack Lodge, so he’s a little sentimental about the place.
Williams’ parents, Helen and Bill, purchased the iconic, riverfront retreat in 1957 — when he was in the third grade — and moved the family from Yakima to the seven-acre property along U.S. Highway 410.
Williams and his wife, Kristine, have been the backbone of Whistlin’ Jack — home to a restaurant, a general store, an eight-room motel, eight guest cottages and an outdoor event space — for more than 40 years, so it only makes sense that they would want to stay there.
“This is spirit land,” evoked Williams. “You can’t describe how special this place is.”
But reality has intervened in recent years. As the couple’s health steadily declined, they were unable to keep up with the demands of running the lodge. Financial concerns began to mount due to the seasonal nature of the business.
Those challenges ultimately led the couple to decide in early 2017 to sell the business.
“The decision was very emotional for us,” said Williams, who started working with longtime friend Scott Wilson this year in hopes of expediting the sale. “It really came down to our health. We just can’t be here the amount of time it requires to run the place. It’s not something we wanted to do, but the facts of life forced us to make a decision.”
The lodge, located along the Naches River near the small community of Clifdell, is listed through Dedicated Realty. Williams asked that the price tag not be discussed, though he did agree this spring to drop the asking price by about 30 percent.
He’s hoping that concession will attract more potential buyers this summer.
“The right people could have a lot of fun with this if they can let themselves go and focus on all the natural wonders that we have around here,” Williams said. “This place is for a family who is looking for a way back to reality. It will be a life-changing moment for them, just like it was for me.”
Williams says he could never go back to city life after experiencing all of the natural beauty that has surrounded him since he was a boy.
Nearby landmarks such as Boulder Cave, Bumping Lake, Edgar Rock, Raven’s Roost and Camp Roganunda dot Williams’ memories as he recalls the past six decades living in what he calls “the heart of heaven.”
“This is a true wonder of the world,” he said.
Wilson said he had been working with one potential buyer in May, but the deal didn’t materialize. He has fielded other inquiries, but now that summer has arrived, he expects interest to pick up.
A series of improvements were made on the grounds, with fresh paint being applied to the interior and exterior of the motel and the cabins. The decks on the cottages were also re-stained, just in time for the summer travel season.
Chinook Pass opened on June 11 this year — a couple weeks later than normal — which has been drawing in thousands more visitors heading to and from Mount Rainier.
“It’s like a celebration every year when the pass opens up,” Williams said. “It’s a big boost for the economy up here, but it’s also good for businesses from Ellensburg to Prosser.”
Whistlin’ Jack will be hopping from now through about October, when Chinook Pass — about 27 miles to the west — closes again for winter.
‘Selling The Heartbeat’
People from all over the Northwest, if not the world, are familiar with Whistlin’ Jack, which opened on Memorial Day weekend in 1931, the same year as Chinook Pass.
The original owners were Charlie and Mildred Rogers, who started out with four cabins and a lodge.
Williams said the overnight accommodations were originally built to handle the overflow of families who were coming to Clifdell to stay in summer homes. The history of the property is incomplete, and much of what is known about that era is hearsay, Williams said.
“It was just loaded with trees — not at all like it looks today,” he said. “With all of the outdoor activities and the Clifdell Summer Association being formed, Whistlin’ Jack was a natural fit for this region.”
Williams recalls fondly the many interesting people he met during those early years — residents and travelers alike.
He remembers Jack and Kitty Nelson, the first dam keepers at Bumping Lake; Cecil and Katherine Clark; Kit and Jenny Carson; Bob and Barbara Kever. He became friends with their children, and they all learned about the outdoors together.
“The people I met were very instrumental in my life; they gave me a foundation,” said Williams, who lived on Orchard Drive in Yakima before the family uprooted in 1957. “These families were our customers and they were big proponents of the lodge. But they were also my mentors.”
That connection to the Chinook Pass community and all of its natural splendor would end up being lifelong for Williams, who now lives a couple miles down the highway from the lodge.
These days, he can usually be found at Whistlin’ Jack during the busy season, helping out in the lodge or in the store. He might be having breakfast or chatting with an old friend, but he’s around.
When he’s not hanging around the lodge, he’s off enjoying nature’s playground, right in his own backyard.
“This place is so peaceful. That’s what stands out to me,” Williams said. “We’re not just selling the property; we’re selling the heartbeat.”