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Reopening Historic Dardanelle Resort Prepares To Rise ‘Like A Phoenix’

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Sonora, CA – The resurrection of a historic Highway 108 resort all but devoured by the 2018 Donnell Fire is nearly through its initial stages and readying for a soft opening.

Dardanelle Resort co-owner Jim Lewis tells Clarke Broadcasting limited RV camping will open this weekend and that staff and volunteers are “working their butts off,” to get more facilities online by mid-June. “Repairs are still underway on the [RV area] infrastructure but by next week, we anticipate electricity will be in for full-service RV accommodations along with tent camping,” he says happily.

Literally, like a phoenix emerging from the ashes, the now rejuvenating resort was nearly devoured by last summer’s disastrous Donnell Fire, which destroyed 54 structures, 81 outbuildings and scorched nearly 57 square miles. The property had just a few months earlier changed hands and the new owners were excited to be stewarding old traditions while instilling their own flavor.

“At first we were going with a June 1st opening [for the whole property], but it is probably looking like it will be forward the mid-month…really, it’s just as soon as we get it ready, we’re going to open up.” Following site cleanup by Armstrong Logging, Lewis says that on Thursday he took delivery of a 12-by-60-foot modular building that will be the resort’s onsite store. “We have the food trailer and the portable bar will be showing up, probably this next week,” he adds.

Easing Towards A Grand Opening

Upon completion of inspections, the food trailer will begin offering a Frosty-style menu, including burgers, fries and shakes. Lewis hopes that by the Memorial Day holiday weekend next year, the new resort buildings will be finished in time for a grand opening.

Asked if he could imagine the progress made to this point, Lewis cackles outright, “Up until things started showing up, I was feeling pretty skeptical – not even going to lie. It’s just a daunting task.” Along with staff, he says the effort included many helping hands. “So many heartstrings were yanked when this fire went down, and just the outpouring of support…help, wanting to volunteer, has just been amazing. Our Inbox is constantly full — I’ll put it that way.”

Among the chores were whipping the 12.5-acre RV park back into shape. “It was when I started really seeing the components really falling into place that I started thinking, ‘we got this – we can do this’ So, now it’s just trying to be patient and have a little faith…and so far it has paid off.”

While it might take 50 to 100 years for the burned forest areas to recover, Lewis reports that grass is growing and ferns are starting to pop up. “We even found morel mushrooms down here in the resort area. It’s starting to come back and really makes you appreciate the things that didn’t burn, like the RV park in the center.”

Asked about recovery costs, Lewis confides, “Luckily, we were insured, so that what is affording us to rebuild.” He credits a cousin’s gofundme account and the Tuolumne County Historical Society’s fundraiser on the resort’s behalf to help cover seed money for rebuilding until the insurance settlement came in. “We are at a point where we are spending a shocking amount of money to get this ball rolling but in the long run it is going to be worth it,” he maintains, adding investments in upgrading infrastructure will make the resort that much more appealing to guests.

Eyeing Entertainment, Activities Plans

As soon as the store, food trailer and bar are up and operating, Lewis says an immediate next step is building a stage to accommodate live music from the house band. “We are thinking about some horseshoe tournaments and other fundraisers but of course, as soon as we open our doors, everything is a fundraiser, really.”

He anticipates the area is still slating its traditional Fourth of July Parade. Currently, the Forest Service is still in the process of opening some of the forest roads and dealing on an individual basis with cabin owners.

“There is not one homogenized answer for the whole mountain due to the different geological features of the mountain — some places are safe and some place just aren’t like Clark Fork, for instance,” Lewis explains, hoping that will reopen in the coming weeks. “They are trying really hard to get it open but that fire…it raged through there. So it’s going to take awhile to get the proper agencies in to do the services they need to render…and have it cleaned up and ready to move on.”

Due to the rebuilding activities, Lewis says the best way to reach the resort for questions, progress updates, or reservations is to email