The Wasatch Mountain Club Lodge is an excellent example of rustic western log architecture. It stands at the head of Big Cottonwood Canyon, 25 miles southeast of Salt Lake City, Utah. Situated near the trailhead to Lake Mary, it has overlooked Brighton Bowl, lying below, for fifty years. The original structure was begun in 1929 and completed in 1930. It remains intact with the exception of two minor additions. It is one of the few surviving structures from the period 1900-1940, when the canyons of the Wasatch Range were first developed for recreation. It is distinctive in that it has served as the mountain headquarters for one of the earliest private groups in the region dedicated to the appreciation and conservation of nature.
A brief history of the early years of the Wasatch Mountain Club reveals the essential reasons for the construction of the lodge. At the start of the century few people went into the mountains for recreational purposes. A few hiked by themselves and met by chance. Eventually a nucleus of such men and women formed to hike together for companionship. Their interest spread to the winter season as snow touring was added to their activities.
Realizing the potential for growth of public interest in the outdoors, the group officially incorporated as a non-profit organization on May 13, 1920 under the name of The Wasatch Mountain Club, Inc. There were thirteen charter members. Growth came rapidly and before long there were several hundred members. Special committees were established to manage club programs, arrange transportation and handle publicity.
For eight years, 1920 to 1928, the Club expanded into a number of enterprises. Frequently public officials such as the mayors of Ogden and Salt Lake joined them on particular events. C. Clarence Neslen, then mayor of Salt Lake, was listed as a member. The Club was active in civic projects, built a toboggan slide east of Salt Lake City near Dry Canyon, and was instrumental in obtaining government protection for Timpanogos Cave in American Fork Canyon. It also publicized the present Southern Utah Parks areas and thus was of assistance in obtaining National Park status.
Toward the end of the 1920’s it became evident that the Club needed a cabin or lodge to serve as its mountain headquarters. With the cooperation of the U.S. Forest Service, the present site was selected for the lease of land on which to build. Its location near Salt Lake City would allow convenient access to members and yet provide enjoyment of the natural beauty and ruggedness of the Wasatch Mountains.
The solid lodge which stands today is the result of the enthusiasm and work of those early members who approached the project in the summer of 1929 when the foundation was undertaken. The following summer trees in the area were felled and hauled to the building site by teams of horses. Under the supervision of several skilled craftsmen the logs were peeled, cut to length, trimmed and hoisted into place for the walls and interior structure. The rough stone work was accomplished for the construction of the imposing fireplace and its two story chimney. By the fall of 1930, with the exception of finishing touches, the main part of the structure was completed and ready for use.
Through the years the lodge has served as the focal point for summer and winter hikes and snow tours to Catharine Pass; the lakes Mary, Martha and Catharine; Twin Lakes; Clayton Peak and other trails in the area. With the clarity of a crystal ball, the chairman of the lodge committee in 1929 foresaw that “unquestionably, Brighton is and will continue to be a preferable local retreat of its kind …. and it is not improbable that Brighton will develop into a real locale for winter sports”. Subsequent events have upheld his forecast.
In June, 1970, Governor Rampton declared “Wasatch Mountain Club Week” to honor the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Club. This was an honor not only for the recreational aspects of the Club but to recognize its contribution to conservation efforts and the encouragement of appreciation of our natural resources. The Lodge played its part as a background to these commendable activities.
Access to the lodge has not been restricted to Club members. Its use is available to the public and has provided facilities for church groups, scout troops, family reunions, community organizations, university groups, etc. It has even served as a surrogate wedding chapel and the setting for amateur chamber music festivals. It can accommodate 150 people comfortable for daytime activities and house 50 people overnight. The lodge is operated on a non-profit basis with charges levied only to cover operating and maintenance expenses.
The lodge is unique, also, in that it is the survivor of companion rustic edifices which were constructed in the early days of Brighton. The original M.I.A. Lodge, the Davis Lodge, the Alpine Rose Lodge have vanished – – the victims of fire. The Brighton Hotel was boarded shut, suffered vandalism and eventually was demolished.
Although less than $5,000 was required for materials and labor at the time of its construction, it has been estimated that the lodge could not be duplicated for $150,000. It probably would not be possible to duplicate the log and stone work at any price. Its value as a setting for club activities of the 600+ members and for public functions could not be adequately equated. As a superb example of early rustic construction it merits inclusion on the State and National Registers of Historic and Cultural Sites.
Listed on the National Register of Historical Places in 1980, the Lodge is one of the few surviving examples of rustic architecture left from the 1900-1940’s located on National Forest system lands managed by the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forests. The Lodge remains architecturally intact, with the exception of two minor additions.
A Team Effort
Constructed in 1929, the lodge is the mountain home to one of the earliest regional groups dedicated to the appreciation and conservation of nature, the Wasatch Mountain Club. The WMC was founded in 1913, and grew quickly. By 1929, the club boasted over 500 members. Construction of the building, excluding the stonework and setting of the log walls, was done by club members.
The Skit Center of Utah
The lodge was a hub for both summer and winter recreation in the 1900’s, and known as the “Ski Center of Utah” by many locals. In the winter, club members operated and enjoyed the first ski tow in Utah, the “Brighton Bowl.” The second floor of the lodge hosts an overnight dormitory, for those who wished to avoid the difficult winter drive down to the Salt Lake valley.
The Preserve and Maintain
Currently, the lodge is managed by the Wasatch Mountain Club Foundation for both public and member use. The funds generated from rental and donations go towards helping the Foundation accomplish its purpose – to preserve and maintain the Lodge for future generations.
The Wasatch Mountain Club Foundation is a charitable, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization.