Reimagining Oregon’s Salishan Coastal Lodge
By Brian E. Clark
Two-thirds of the way into a 90-minute standup paddleboard outing down the Siletz River on the bucolic Oregon coast, I looked up to watch an eagle fly overhead. And then, for some reason, I temporarily lost my balance and walked backward off the board into the drink.
“Been there, done that,” quipped Ken Cruse, co-owner of the lovely Salishan Coastal Lodge (salishan.com) and my paddling partner on that late summer afternoon adventure. Fortunately, neither my 17-year-old son, nor any of the others in our small group, were near enough to see my splashdown. So – quicker than you can say “whoops!” – I hopped back on my board and we finished our outing near the Siletz Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
Standup paddleboarding, along with kayaking, hiking, mountain biking, and birding are just a few of the adventure options that Cruse and his partners have added to the Salishan – which was mostly known for its golf, tennis, and spa – since they purchased the resort at auction in late 2017 and set about rejuvenating it.
But the best of all the new additions is the arboreal “challenge course” hung in old-growth trees in the hills above the resort, where my son, my 19-year-old daughter and I found ourselves the next day. After we stepped into our climbing harnesses and received a safety talk from an instructor, we climbed a ladder and were soon testing our agility on swaying wooden walks and rope gangways strung between huge cedar, hemlock and Sitka spruce trees. It was a hoot.
Cruse, who spent his career in the hotel industry, described the 158-acre, 54-year-old Salishan Resort as a “beautiful place, but not well known outside the Pacific Northwest.” The property has 205 guest rooms, a 25,000-square-foot tennis center, a 36,000 square foot market place, a 10,000 square-foot spa and 16,000 square feet of meeting space.
“I grew up in Colorado, but my parents moved to Corvallis, Oregon after I left for college, so I came out to the state to visit on a number of occasions,” he said. “And while we never stayed at the Salishan because it was a bit too fancy for our budget, we’d drive by and admire it. And we did stop for dinner once or twice.”
He said the location, just south of Lincoln City and 100 miles southwest of Portland, is ideal because it sits cheek by jowl with Siletz Bay and the Pacific Ocean.
“But it’s also just far enough away from some of the kitschy qualities of the Oregon Coast,” he quipped. “So when it came up for auction after years of unfortunate management and capital decisions, we jumped on it.”
Cruse said the resort was in much better shape than he’d thought it would be, even though it had been in receivership or circling receivership for nearly five years. During that period, the custodian and a previous owner had put a reported $7 million into the property.
“They’d upgraded the guest rooms and done a fair amount of enhancements, especially behind the scenes,” he added. “But where it fell down was operations. And with 30 wooden buildings in a marine environment, something always needs to be done.”
Cruse called 2018 a “repositioning year. From a physical side, we spent time and money on recreation enhancements because the resort was suffering from a legacy mindset of ‘As long as you have golf and tennis, you’ll appeal to a wide swath of modern travelers.’”
But Cruse said that’s no longer enough.
“I’ve no issues with golf and tennis, but people are looking for other more innovative and modern experiences,” he explained. “So we added the challenge course on the property and a whole lot of on-and-off property recreation opportunities, whether it is the bike program or stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, expeditions, and tours.”
Cruse said building the challenge course was expensive and included stops and starts as he navigated dealing with the local planning board. He also had to appease neighbors – some of whom were not happy with some of the changes.
“We wanted to do it correctly and it was a bit of a process,” he said. “But the enhancements we did have resonated quite well with most people and we’ve seen really good consumer reactions to what we’re offering now.”
He’s waiting to make changes to the 18-hole golf course – which could include reducing its size to nine holes – because he said the time isn’t right make such a move.
“We want to do it right and with buy-in,” he said. “Or at least have people understand why we are doing what we’re doing.”
Cruse, who lives in Orange County, Ca., said he’s used his four daughters and some of their friends as guinea pigs to test out the different offerings at the resort. They’ve been pleased, he said.
(Elsewhere in the Northwest, the company restored and recently opened the historic Hotel Redmond [https://www.scphotel.com/
Cruse said Salishan will be the fourth property to be part of the SCP – “Soul, Community, Planet” – brand, which he said focuses more on personal wellness, social good, and sustainable practices, rather than maximizing profitability.
One of those practices is working with One Tree Planted (OTP) in a global reforestation effort. Just as the name implies, the company is working with OTP to plant a tree for each guest at its hotels.
In addition, the company has adopted what it calls its Fair Trade Pricing, which guarantees that customers who are not satisfied can get a refund – no questions asked.
“It created a lot of buzz when it was launched,” he said. “But it’s a great way to put our money where our mouth is. We took the adversarial feel out of the transaction. But rarely does anyone ask for a refund.
“An exception was a guy at our Colorado Springs hotel whose room didn’t have hot water. He came to the front desk and asked for a $20 off, but he got a complete refund. No one has tried to game the system and we believe people are fundamentally good.”
For more information, see salishan.com or call (800) 452-2300. New summer packages include:
- Coast is Clear Offer. Guests can enjoy 15 percent off their stay with no charges upfront and cancellation fees waived up to three days before their arrival date.
- Family Getaway to the Oregon Coast Package. Ideal for families who want more space and the convenience of an unlocked connecting door, this package includes two remote-entry, connected Traditional family rooms; $50 eco-adventure lodge credit per night; free bike rides, and a complimentary S’mores kit. The package requires a minimum stay of two nights with room rates starting at $279 and lodge fees waived.
Brian E. Clark is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer and photographer who contributes to the Chicago Tribune and LA Times on a regular basis. He also writes a weekly travel column for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. A native of Iowa, Clark is a University of Colorado, Boulder, graduate who focuses on adventure travel. He’s a veteran whitewater kayaker and skier who has lived in Norway, Sweden, Brazil and Bolivia. He worked for newspapers in Washington State and California for 25 years, including the San Diego Union-Tribune, before returning to the Midwest. He manages to head back West several times a year when he’s not off in other corners of the globe. Or poking around Wisconsin.