In September 2020, Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra’s (DSES) efforts to build the National Wounded Warrior Center (NWCC) were dealt a deathblow at the hands of the Mammoth Lakes Foundation Board of Directors.
The choice to not proceed with a land lease for the project came as a shock to the non-profit, which had raised $11.7 million towards construction of the NWCC and spent countless staff hours in planning.
So DSES went back to the drawing board, down but never out.
Patience and persistence have finally been rewarded. The reward: Fern Creek Lodge in June Lake, acquired by purchase from the Coats family earlier this year.
The family posted the following to the Fern Creek Lodge Facebook page on November 11:
“We have exciting news to share about Fern Creek Lodge and for its new bright future. For the family of Jim Coats (Owners of the Lodge for many years), we now bid our fond farewell to our wonderful customers. To all the people who have enjoyed the Lodge’s resources over our years of operation, we thank you for your business, friendship, and loyalty.
While the Lodge’s tenure as a public business will soon come to an end, the Lodge will then launch a new beginning as a retreat for many of our nation’s veterans. The buyer of the Lodge is Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra (DSES).
DSES has exciting plans to transform the Lodge to serve as its new National Wounded Warrior Center.
“DSES and the Eastern Sierra have an amazing opportunity to help our wounded warriors learn, heal, and thrive.
Jim Coats served as a Sergeant in the USMC and everyone who knows him knows his deep pride in our veterans. Coincidentally, he always supported the DSES over the years, loving its mission for the wounded warriors.
And Jim knows his Dad and Grandfather would be so happy to know that the Lodge survives as a unique, dedicated service for our wounded warriors and for their loved ones. It is for him a great ending, and for his family, a sincere farewell,” said DSES Founding Director Kathy Copeland.
DSES Laura Beardsley described the property as “a really great environment to conduct programs for veterans and active duty service members with disabilities”, adding that the site presented additional opportunities for “some of our multi-day camp style programs for families or for integrated groups of athletes.”
“Fern Creek will be a retreat style property for us to provide a welcoming space for veterans, especially those who are participating in multi-day and longer term programs,” Beardsley said.
The property, she said, will be extensively remodeled and renovated to suit DSES’s vision for the site. “The oldest buildings on the property are from 1927, and as you can imagine they need a little update,” Beardsley added.
The existing cabins and lodge space will be modernized through renovation, along with infrastructure improvements to improve accessibility.
Fern Creek, Beardsley said, provides “access to all of the things that both June and Mammoth have to offer.” DSES’s winter programming will still be based out of offices at Mammoth Mountain.
DSES aims to enhance existing military sports camps with the assets available through Fern Creek, providing an experience to highlight the “challenge and benefit of outdoor recreation with curriculum specifically tailored towards personal skill and professional development.” The enhanced camps provide a “mix of outdoor active time with learning modules focused on all kinds of things that essential to really building thriving civilian lives,” Beardsley said.
She stressed that the project is still in early phases: after closing the sale, the next step is planning and executing the necessary renovations. Beardsley said that the DSES team wanted to get through the purchasing process and make sure it had gone smoothly before moving on to secondary steps.
Beardsley was hopeful DSES would be able to get some programming up and running at Fern Creek by summer of 2022.
“Our initial goal is to make this a home base for military athletes and veterans pursuing adaptive recreation…and personal goals in the Eastern Sierra,” Beardsley said of the NWCC, adding that while “The focus is building programs for veterans and service members…there could be value in having a place for people to gather in June Lake that we really haven’t had before.”