Popular RV site teaches outdoor ethics, provides services.
Popular RV site teaches outdoor ethics, provides services.
“People love it here,” she said. “Many store their RVs and enjoy the cool pines during the summer.”
Happy Jack Lodge has become its own enclave in the woods. The privately owned acreage offers a massive rustic lodge, steakhouse, grocery store, gift shop, cabins and RV sites. Once the site of the Southwest Forest Industries logging camp, it now hosts campers escaping the Valley heat and busyness of the city, hunters gathering for a warm meal and a game of cards around a massive wood-burning fireplace, and neighboring community members wanting to two-step on a Saturday night to the music of a live country band.
“We’ve been told that we receive more mail here than the U.S. Post Office at Clints Well!” said Pendergast, a retired Glendale police officer, who specialized in emergency management. “This has become an important gathering center. People count on us.”
Promoting Forest Stewardship
As has been the case since nearly the start of the pandemic, the demand for outdoor recreation and the human need to be in the woods has surged. Coconino National Forest Recreation Manager Brian Poturalski says that’s a trend that shows no sign of slowing down.
“The sheer number of people who want to be in Arizona’s high elevation forests has increased dramatically in the last two-and-a-half years,” he said. “It’s a significant impact because a lot of the folks we are seeing now did not grow up camping in the woods. They want to do the right thing and be good stewards of the land, but they may not know what that means.”
He says privately owned recreation sites like Happy Jack Lodge & RV fill an important void by providing cabins, RV sites and facilities to accept trash, along with a dumping station for sewage. Happy Jack Lodge also answers emergency calls around the clock.
“It feels like a lot of people, post-COVID, are looking for those developed recreation sites where they can feel safe and comfortable,” said Poturalski. “They enjoy being near others and having the amenities and infrastructure provided at these sites.”
Pendergast says Happy Jack guests are very sociable and treat the property as if it were their own home. “When a place shows respect for its surroundings, like keeping the lawn mowed, having no trash on the ground, and maintaining clean, freshly painted and smoothly operating facilities, others follow that behavior.”
Protecting a Riparian Area
In the early 2000s, the land adjacent to Happy Valley Lodge was part of a land exchange with the Coconino National Forest. Land at Clear Creek, owned by lodge owner Michael Mongini, a long-time partner in the Flagstaff law firm Hufford, Horstman, Mongini, Parnell and Tucker P.C., was traded to protect the rare riparian area. Mongini’s 820-acre property was an inholding characterized by plateaus of ponderosa pine forest, bisected by a scenic canyon with nearly two linear miles of East Clear Creek frontage. To acquire the property, the Forest Service traded approximately 500 acres of Coconino National Forest land adjacent to Happy Jack Lodge.
“It was important to me that the Clear Creek land be part of the National Forest. The trade was consistent with the goals of the Coconino National Forest Management Plan, as they don’t want ‘islands’ of private land surrounded by National Forest,” said Mongini. “And that was an easy decision for me, as well. That riparian area needed to belong to the Forest Service and the land next to Happy Jack Lodge would fit the site’s business plan.”
As stated in the land exchange documents, “Following completion of the land exchange (Sept. 19, 2008) the Happy Jack Property now serves the original intent anticipated by Coconino County, the Coconino National Forest: 1) the needs of a growing regional population are accommodated with commercial and residential development, ii) County services are more concentrated, iii) impacts to the surrounding National Forest substantially reduced. Visitors have safe and aesthetically pleasing location in Happy Jack Lodge to congregate, park their recreational vehicles and enjoy the National Forest, rather than utilizing the same recreational vehicles for remote vehicular camping.”
Currently, Mongini is working with the County Planning and Zoning Division to rezone the parcel and create 250 more RV sites at Happy Jack Lodge for a total of 650 sites.
“This gives us the opportunity to share this beautiful area with more people from the Valley and elsewhere. We are set up to manage the recreational impact and influence behavior while providing support to both the Forest Service and recreationists,” he said. “The people who work here are wonderful ambassadors who love the forest and truly enjoy welcoming and helping visitors. They also promote Forest Service etiquette and help educate people about the natural surroundings.”
Preserving Pioneering History
Mongini, a long-time Flagstaff resident, is thrilled that Happy Jack Lodge is preserving a part of Arizona history that played a key role in the development of the pioneering city. “We’ve been able to recycle, re-use and rehabilitate buildings and 2’ x 6’ boards from the forest logging companies that used this site.”
Retired Coconino National Forest Ranger Bruce Greco spent eight years managing the Happy Jack Ranger Station, a few miles northwest of Happy Jack Lodge. “Mormon pioneers brought in a sawmill. They first used it to build a temple in St. George, Utah, in the late 1800s and then dismantled it and moved it to Mormon Lake to supply all the communities along the Little Colorado River with lumber. In those days lumber was transported by wagons pulled by oxen. They produced quite a bit of lumber for the early start of Flagstaff.”
The area was known as Long Valley then and was the only way to get over the Mogollon Rim from Winslow to Strawberry, Pine, Payson and the Phoenix area. In the early 1900s, the Forest Service established the Long Valley Ranger Station.
Meanwhile, miners were testing for manganese iron ore around the region. “The same thing was happening at Happy Jack. Manganese mining claims were filed, pits were dug by hand, but no one ever really developed them,” said Greco.
After World War II, a surplus of army vehicles with rubber tires was a welcomed addition to the logging scene. “That’s when logging really boomed here,” said Greco. “Loggers converted the vehicles to logging trucks.”
In the early 1950s, the Saginaw and Manistee Lumber Company brought in logging trains, equipment and employees to Flagstaff, about 40 miles northwest of Happy Jack. Logging families stayed in the lumber camp at Happy Jack. “Life was very difficult for people there,” he said. “There would have been upwards of 500 people – we’re talking about a land base of only five or six acres. There would have been very little privacy. But they had a spring for water and hunting was a big deal.”
The company was absorbed by Southwest Lumber Mills, according to sources that cite Northern Arizona University Cline Library Special Collections and Archives. Southwest Lumber Mills was acquired by Stone Container Company in 1987 and renamed Southwest Forest Industries in 1989.
“The natural beauty off the rim, the unique ecosystem, the wildlife and nearby Wilderness of West Clear Creek and Fossil Springs have brought people here since the 1800s,” said Greco. “Happy Jack Lodge continues that unique American West experience offering the solitude, serenity and beauty that people have long been seeking.
“It’s a special place,” said Mongini. “We feel really good about providing accommodations so people can enjoy these beautiful woods and connect with nature.” QCBN
By Bonnie Stevens, QCBN