Sierra Club lodge struggles to stay afloat
January 30, 2007
Built by Sierra Club volunteers in 1934, the Clair Tappaan Lodge on Donner Summit is facing tough times financially with threats to sell the lodge.
In recent years, Clair Tappaan Lodge has suffered a decline in occupancy, resulting in decreased revenue which has alarmed the Sierra Club’s board of directors, said Ernie Malamud, chair of the Clair Tappaan Lodge committee.
Putting the lodge up for sale would be “totally counter” to what Sierra Club stands for if the lodge finds its way into the hands of developers, Malamud said.
In response to the Sierra Club’s push to generate more interest in Clair Tappaan Lodge, there has been “a major paradigm shift to place more emphasis on education,” Malamud said.
Lodge staff hopes that by boosting the number of outdoor activities the lodge offers year-round to both guests and non-guests, and opening the lodge’s grand living room to business meetings, occupancy will increase, Malamud said. The lodge is also reaching out to attract youth organizations to book trips to the lodge with educational nature walks, local history, and other outdoor activities, he said.
Tucked away on Donner Summit and nestled beneath tall pines and firs, the Sierra Club’s Clair Tappaan Lodge relies heavily on Sierra Club volunteers, and even its guests, to stay in business.
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Lodge guests are required to participate in daily chores, such as washing dishes or helping in the kitchen, said Peter Lehmkuhl, Clair Tappaan’s general manager.
Guests are instructed to bring their own bedding for the hostel-style bunk beds at the lodge, and that meals are served up “family-style” in the dining room. They “give up the creature comforts for the experience,” Lehmkuhl said.
“The lodge has a communal nature,” he said. “Our guests are return guests who have come here for years and years and now it’s become a tradition.”
Clair Tappaan has been able to keep its rates low by having guests help out around the lodge, Malamud said.
The lodge was nearly full to capacity over the weekend, with about 130 guests, but during the week occupancy drops significantly, Lehmkuhl said. On Monday, the lodge had 10 guests.
Clair Tappaan’s crew of volunteers is divided into teams to address various aspects of lodge business, Malamud said. Any marketing and public relations regarding the lodge relies upon the work of volunteers, he said.
Most people find out about Clair Tappaan by word of mouth, Lehmkuhl said.
“The volunteers are critical to the operation,” Lehmkuhl said.