Breitenbush Hot Springs, photo by author
A beloved retreat center is attempting to literally rise from the ashes of last fall’s devastating Oregon wildfires.
Breitenbush Hot Springs and Retreat Center was engulfed by the Beachie Creek and Lionshead fires last September. Despite heroic efforts by community members and staff from the retreat center, the damage was devastating.
Breitenbush has been a favorite get-away for Oregonians and guests from around the world since 1981. Located about 115 miles away from the city of Portland near the town of Detroit, it is a relatively easy drive to go up there for a weekend retreat.
Many former guests and friends of Breitenbush watched the news with bated breath, hoping for a miracle to save the sacred space which includes volcanic hot springs and miles of ancient forest. Smoke from the fires reached as far as Portland and beyond as part of a convergence of multiple wildfires that hit the state almost simultaneously.
A small group of firefighters from Breitenbush and Detroit worked tirelessly for days in dangerous conditions to save as much of the retreat center and community as they could.
When the smoke cleared, every one of Breitenbush’s guest cabins lay in rubble. Sixty buildings had burned to the ground – over half the total community -- and the remaining structures were damaged by smoke and water. The Sanctuary building, the Vista massage center, and several community buildings were also ruined, including a maintenance bay, wood shop, and a footbridge.
Breitenbush Hot Springs foot bridge, photo by author
One bright point: firefighters were able to save the historic Breitenbush lodge building. Built in 1927, the lodge was the oldest building on site and has been an enduring symbol of the Breitenbush spirit for many years.
Many of the Breitenbush retreat center staff live on the stie year-round as part of an intentional community, and several community members also lost their personal homes to the flames. Without a retreat center to run, many community members were forced to relocate to Portland, Salem, and the surrounding cities to look for temporary work.
But community members at Breitenbush are nothing if not resilient. As soon as the fires had abated enough to make it safe to return, crews started assessing the damage and working on a plan to rebuild and re-open as soon as possible.
They also appealed to their supporters to make donations to help fund the rebuilding. The fires were even more financially disastrous following a four month closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But there’s finally some good news out Breitenbush. This week the organization shared their plans to do a partial re-opening this spring. The team is aiming for a May 28th “soft” opening for camping only. They are focusing on building wooden camping platforms and getting restroom and shower facilities back online so guests can enjoying camping under the old growth trees that surround the site.
Community member Gael Nagle, who has lived and worked at Breitenbush for twenty years, wrote to supporters:
“Everything else burned down! So the only overnight accommodations available this year will be our tents, your tents or your personal vehicles. For the first time, Breitenbush will be providing ‘glamping’ opportunities…So we work with each other, the weather and the land, and we hope for the best – to open with a variety of camping options and a wonderful array of bathing opportunities, all in a changed but welcoming landscape.”
Breitenbush Hot Springs, photo by author
Nagle noted that the Breitenbush community is using the rebuild as an opportunity to tailor their facilities more to the types of guests the retreat center hosts. Some changes on the horizon include more single occupancy hot spring bathing, Hermitage buildings to accommodate single visitors, and multi-guest cabins with separate bathrooms and showers.
Breitenbush is hoping to accept camping reservations later this spring.
#wildfire #portland #detroit #oregon #historic #forest #hotsprings