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‘Amazing’ New Clearwater Lodge Rises From Ashes of Historic Structure Torched by Arsonist

Tim Ellis/KUAC

The Clearwater Lodge is back in business. Two years after the old structure was burglarized and burned to the ground, owner Kevin Ewing has opened a bigger, fancier lodge in the same scenic spot, on the banks of the Clearwater River near Delta Junction. Ewing says he’s trying to rebuild his business while honoring the memory of the old lodge and its place in local history.

Clearwater Lodge proprietor Kevin Ewing was hustling on a recent afternoon to help a crew set up a satellite TV system in time for his customers to catch that evening’s pro football opening-day games.

“All we had before was just local channels – y’know, just local TV,” he said. “But now we’re getting the satellite.”

Ewing says he isn’t converting the lodge into some kind of sports bar. The satellite TV system is just one of many upgrades he’s added in hopes of attracting more customers to the new lodge, which he’s spent more than a million dollars building, while at the same time preserving the funky, familiar feel of the old lodge.

Credit KUAC file photo
Clearwater Lodge co-owner Patsy Ewing, in light blue jacket, talks with friends while surveying what's left of the old lodge that an arsonist burned down on May 15, 2014.

“The only thing that I knew was going to be hard to re-establish was the atmosphere,” he said. “Y’know, the old lodge had that comfortable, come-in-sit-down, everybody-knows-you type of deal. And getting that back with the new building I knew was going to be tough.”

The new 7,200-square-foot lodge is more than twice as big as the old one – and much fancier, inside and out. The exterior is framed big rough-milled timbers, including the big gables that soar over the front and back entrances and make the structure look more like a chalet than the log cabin built in 1954 that housed the old lodge. Ewing included some design touches to give the new lodge a rustic appearance – like the specially coated roofing that looks like it’s rusting, and reclaimed-wood siding that’s finished to look faded and weather-beaten.

Credit Tim Ellis/KUAC
Gables over the front and rear entrances were built with heavy, rough-hewn timbers. The roofing is coated with a solution that gives it a rusty patina, and the exterior siding is built of reclaimed wood finished to appear weathered.

“That’s why I wanted to try and make the building look like it’d been here,” he said, “so when you pulled up it didn’t look like a sterile, new building that everyone has to take their shoes off to come in to!”

The new structure does not, however, include the aroma of cigarette smoke and creosote that emanated from the treated timbers that were used for the old lodge’s foundation. The new lodge is built on a concrete foundation, and the bar is now smoke-free.

Ewing’s attention to aesthetic detail impressed Jenny Simmons and her husband, Grant Chapin-Patch, a couple of tourists from Kansas City who’d were told to check out the lodge while they’re in town.

“I love the exterior wood planks – the different colors in the wood,” Simmons said.

They were equally impressed with the interior, which they got to see when Ewing invited them along for an impromptu tour.

“I was taking pictures of the back of it, the front of it, the doors – everything,” Chapin-Patch gushed. “It’s amazing!”

Credit Clearwater Lodge
Anglers from all over flock to the Clearwater River to enjoy good fishing in a scenic setting. Here, Ewing directs anglers to good fishing spots on the banks of the river behind the lodge.

They marveled at the salmon and grayling motifs carved into the timbers and cast in concrete inlays on the back deck in celebration of the Clearwater’s legendary fishing tradition – which, along with snowmachine races, attracted sizable crowds during the 1960s and ‘70s. And they were impressed by more-subtle touches that commemorate the old lodge, like the weathered planks that Ewing used to build a façade along the front of the bar.

“This was the tongue-and-groove I’d pulled off the roof, before it burned,” Ewing said, “and I’d stacked it, thinking ‘I’ll use it someday, for something.’ Well, everything else was a total loss. There was nothing left.”

The bar top, made from a big slab of birch, holds bits and pieces of mementoes entombed beneath the clear-coat finish, including gold nuggets from a nearby mine – and a set of keys.

“Those were the keys that locked up the (old) building the night it burned,” he said.

Credit Clearwater Lodge
Ewing, at left, and patrons enjoy the new lodge's bar soon after it opened. Ewing is now completing work on the restaurant and two banquet rooms he hopes to begin renting out this holiday season.

The May 14, 2014 fire changed everything for Ewing and his wife, Patsy. It wiped-out the family business and their plans for life after he finally retires from his pipeline job at Pump Station 9. It led to months of legal wrangling that finally ended in convictionof the arsonist and haggling with insurance companies over claims and lenders to secure financing for the new lodge.

Ewing believes the stress of the ordeal is at least partly to blame for Patsy’s death a few months after the fire, due to health-related causes. He doesn’t like to talk much about that. But he says with a note of irony in his voice that all the publicity about the fire and its aftermath seems to have boosted interest in his new venture.

“He not only burned this place down,” Ewing said of the arsonist, “but a few months later, he burned down his next-door neighbor’s, which was a school teacher here in town – tried to burn her house down in a robbery. Stole a bunch of stuff, and then tried to burn it down.”

He hopes all the publicity will serve a good cause and boost interest in the lodge in the months ahead, after he completes work on two big banquet rooms that he hopes to rent out beginning this holiday season. And he’ll need that interest for more projects that will follow.

“When the restaurant is done and open, you can relax?” Simmons asked.

“Uh, no, I’ve got a couple more building projects I want to do!” Ewing said.

Those projects include some apartments that’ll enable customers to stick around a while. And a retirement home that he’d like to build on a piece of land just upriver from the lodge.

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.