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Wolf Creek Inn closed for the year

WOLF CREEK — The historic Wolf Creek Inn will remain closed the rest of this year, the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department announced Friday. The surprise closure is an economic blow to the community.

The inn, originally a stage stop that dates back to the 1870s, attracts visitors off of Interstate 5, pumping dollars into the rural community. Cooks, servers and housekeepers worked at the inn, which has been closed since October for installation of a new fire suppression system.

The inn was due to reopen this spring. That hasn't happened, however, because concessionaire Quist Hospitality opted not to continue operations, state parks officials said.

The inn has been plagued by concessionaire turnover ever since the state took it over in 1975, and the parks department has decided to keep the inn closed and do additional work on a new heating and air-conditioning system while a new vendor is lined up. The sprinkler and climate control work will wind up costing more than $700,000 total.

A new concessionaire would be needed prior to reopening, possibly next spring. The grounds remain open to visitors.

"We've displaced some people's livelihoods," said Perry Salvestrin, a parks official who oversees both Valley of the Rogue State Park and the Wolf Creek Inn. "We're aware of that and we've heard."

"The most important thing for us is the integrity of the inn," Salvestrin said. "That's part of our department's mission: preserving history and telling that story. It (the inn) is very valuable to us. It's very valuable to the state. It's very valuable to the community."

The future of the inn is up for discussion. The state is seeking comment on what services it will offer there in the future. Ideas can be sent to wolfcreek.inn@oregon.gov.

A formal request for proposals to operate the inn might be issued next fall or winter, according to Chris Havel, associate director for the parks department.

"We're not looking for dramatic changes, just a few ideas to give us some perspective," Havel said, in an e-mail. "This is a unique park, one we've been putting time, money and effort into since 1975. Even if people don't have thoughts about services they'd like to see there, they could just send us an e-mail about what they find special about the park and the inn. That alone would help us target the upcoming marketing for a new concessionaire."

According to the parks department, the inn and grounds were purchased in 1975 in order to protect the inn's history. The site is on the north bank of Wolf Creek and along a former stage road from California to Portland. It's believed to have been built between 1873 and 1880.

The inn, or tavern as it is sometimes called, is a large wood frame building with a colonnaded two-story front porch. It's considered an example of dozens of similar way stations once associated with early roads and trails. It has a kitchen, dining area and nine guest rooms with private baths.

The site was added to the National Register of Historic Places as Wolf Creek Tavern in 1972. It was restored under state and federal auspices and is operated as an inn under state concession.

The inn is known as the site where author Jack London stayed for several weeks in 1911 while completing his novel "Valley of the Moon." Other famous guests included President Rutherford B. Hayes, Mary Pickford and Clark Gable.

The historic Wolf Creek Inn will be closed this year for reconstruction, Oregon State Parks announced Friday. A new concessionaire will be needed prior to reopening. Photo courtesy Grants Pass Daily Courier