Mava and Mac Machomich opened the Gold Lake Lodge in 1912. Standing in front of the dining hall from left are: A.D. Smith, Ted McDonald, Elmer McDonald, Mava Machomich, Mac Machomich and Katherine Smith. This photo is believed to have been taken sometime in the 1920s. Photo courtesy Plumas County Museum
One hundred years ago city dwellers arrived at Gold Lake Lodge via train and horse and buggy.
Today they may arrive in an SUV, but their goal is the same — enjoy the outdoors.
John and Sugie Barker are the current owners of the lodge, which is celebrating its 100th birthday this year. They are only the fourth family to own the lodge, which was originally established in 1912 by Mac and Mava Machomich.
The Barkers bought the lodge in 2002 from Pete and Ann Thill, but they are hardly newcomers to the area or the hospitality business.
Sugie Barker’s grandparents built nearby Elwell Lakes Lodge in 1920 and it has been in her family ever since.
Today Sugie runs Elwell, while husband John is at Gold Lake Lodge.
Gold Lake Lodge guests Chris and Carol Hoffman, of Santa Cruz, stand on the deck of the dining hall with John Barker, right, who owns the lodge with his wife, Sugie. This was the Hoffmans’ first visit, but they said they definitely plan to return. Photo by Debra Moore
The couple spends nights at Elwell in the family quarters above the recreation hall, but then John returns to Gold Lake at 6:30 the next morning.
Sugie often accompanies him and then walks home, enjoying the solitude of an early morning outing.
Though both Elwell and Gold Lake lodges are in the Lakes Basin Area off of Gold Lake Road, they offer guests a distinct choice.
Sugie’s guests at Elwell spend a week at a time — they all arrive on a Saturday. There is no restaurant, but each cabin has a kitchen.
Many of her guests have been coming for generations.
Conversely, Gold Lake Lodge sees a variety of new faces every year, with some guests staying for an entire week, but others opting for just a couple of nights.
John likes it that way.
“We get a lot of new people,” he said. “A lot of what I do in the morning is explaining the hikes and where to go.”
He said that at Elwell, guests already know what to do.
That’s one of the reasons that the Barkers bought Gold Lake Lodge. Sugie can run Elwell by herself and John wanted to keep busy.
That’s not a problem on a property that has a dining hall, a recreation room and several cabins.
Guests are served a family-style breakfast and dinner, and a lunch to take on the trail.
In addition, the lodge is open to the public for dinner.
John likes the family-style service where all of the guests sit at two long tables.
“People really start talking,” he said — though he admitted that it’s a little quieter in the morning when people appear reluctant to socialize until they have their coffee.
A live-in staff helps John run the lodge. This year, the group of college students hails from Poland.
“Their school schedule works better for us,” Sugie said. She explained that because the lodge is so seasonal, and local youth return to school before the lodge closes, the Barkers look to Europe for their staff.
Gold Lake Lodge, at an elevation of 6,620 feet, opened June 14 this year and will close Sept. 17. It has a shorter season than Elwell, which sits at a slightly lower elevation.
Elwell will remain open until the end of September. The staggered dates also allow the Barkers to open and close the two lodges more easily. Once Gold Lake has closed for the season, John helps Sugie close Elwell.
The couple remains in the area until the snow falls.
While Sugie misses her guests when the lodge closes, she relishes the quiet of fall and the long walks she can share with her husband.
The lodges are a family affair, with sons Josh and Jeremy helping out whenever they can.
Last week, Jeremy was visiting from New York and helping his father at Gold Lake.
A little history
When Gold Lake Lodge was initially established, guests accessed it via the road that now leads to Frazier Falls.
Guests often rode the train to the Blairsden station, just above where Gumba’s is located, and then were transported to the lodges.
Sugie said that the two-mile trek to Elwell off the main road was rocky, and it was even farther to get to Gold Lake.
Sugie is writing the history of the Lakes Basin lodges, which, in addition to Elwell and Gold Lake, include Gray Eagle, Packer and Sardine, as well as the former Lakes Center Lodge.
Since her grandparents established Elwell and she has spent summers in the area for as long as she can remember, Sugie knows quite a bit of the history already, but is always looking for more information.
She said that Mac and Mava Machomich received their permit to build Gold Lake Lodge in 1912.
They built the lodge, and what is now Gold Lake Beach Resort, to accommodate guests who wanted to fish in the area’s lakes but didn’t want to “rough it.”
In 1925 the main lodge burned, but was quickly rebuilt. In the 1940s, a tree fell into the recreation hall, and that also had to be rebuilt.
John said that trees are a constant threat to the lodge and he has had to remove some that seemed particularly threatening. It’s an expensive endeavor, but cheaper than replacing buildings.
By 1942, the lodge boasted recreation and dining halls, a store, a generator cabin, eight cabins and 21 tent cabins.
The Machomiches sold the lodge in 1953 to a teacher from Berkeley, Dorothy McClenaghan.
She renovated the existing cabins and removed the tent cabins. She had seasonal help, but did a lot of the cooking and maintenance.
Like her predecessors, ill health forced her to sell her beloved lodge. Pete and Ann Thill bought the lodge in 1987 and operated it until 2002 when they sold it to the Barkers.
According to Sugie, the Thills rebuilt the clientele and appealed to families to enjoy the hiking, fishing, boating and biking the area offered. They resumed serving breakfast and dinner and hosting nightly campfires. They also opened the lodge to the public for dinner.
The Barkers are continuing in their footsteps — emphasizing family fun for guests and the public.
For more information go to goldlakelodge.com or call 836-2350.
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