Expansion plan to meet the demand for recreation.
Julie Pendergast walks through the scenic beauty of Happy Jack enjoying majestic ponderosa pines, gnarled oaks, and an abundance of wildlife such as red-tailed hawks, hummingbirds, deer, elk, and squirrels. As manager of Happy Jack Lodge & RV, located on Lake Mary Road midway between Mormon Lake and Clints Well, Pendergast calls recreationists by her name and asks about her spouses and grandchildren.
“People love being here,” he said. “Many store their RVs and enjoy the cool pines during the summer.”
Happy Jack Lodge has become its own enclave in the woods, a privately owned piece of land with a huge rustic lodge, BBQ, grocery store, gift shop, cabins and RV sites. Once the site of the Southwest Forest Industries logging camp, it is now home to campers escaping the heat of the Valley and the hustle and bustle of the city, hunters gathering for a hot meal and a game of cards around a huge wood-burning fireplace. , and members of the neighboring community who want two steps on a Saturday night to the music of a live country band.
“We’ve been told we get more mail here than the US Post Office in Clints Well!” said Pendergast, a retired Glendale police officer who specialized in emergency management. “This has become an important meeting place. People are counting on us.”
influx of campers
As has been the case since almost the beginning of the pandemic, the demand for outdoor recreation and the human need to be in the woods has increased. Coconino National Forest Recreation Manager Brian Poturalski says that’s a trend that shows no signs of slowing down.
“The sheer number of people who want to be in the high altitude forests of Arizona has increased dramatically in the last two and a half years,” he said. “It’s a significant impact because a lot of the people we’re seeing now didn’t 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 and RV fill an important gap by providing cabins, RV sites, and trash-accepting facilities, along with a sewage dump station. Happy Jack Lodge also answers emergency calls 24 hours a day.
“It seems like a lot of people, post-COVID, are looking for those developed recreation sites where they can feel safe and comfortable,” Poturalski said. “They enjoy being close to each other and having the amenities and infrastructure that these sites provide.”
Pendergast says that guests at Happy Jack are very social and treat the property like it’s their own home. “When a place shows respect for its surroundings, such as keeping the grass mowed, not having litter on the ground, and keeping facilities clean, freshly painted, and in good working order, others follow that behavior.”
An exchange for expansion
In the early 2000s, Happy Valley Lodge owner Michael Mongini, a partner in the Flagstaff law firm Hufford, Horstman, Mongini, Parnell and Tucker PC, initiated a land swap with the Coconino National Forest. He negotiated 820 acres of property characterized by plateaus of ponderosa pine forest, bisected by a scenic canyon with nearly two linear miles of frontage on East Clear Creek. In exchange, the Forest Service sold approximately 500 acres of Forest Service 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 the National Forest,” said Mongini. “And that was also an easy decision for me. That riparian area was to belong to the Forest Service and the land next to Happy Jack would fit into the business plan for the site.”
As stated in the land exchange documents, “Following the completion of the land exchange (September 19, 2008), the Happy Jack property now meets 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 are substantially reduced. Visitors have a safe and aesthetically pleasing place at Happy Jack Lodge to congregate, park their RVs and enjoy the National Forest, rather than using the same RVs for remote vehicle camping.”
Mongini is currently working with the County Zoning and Planning Division to rezone the parcel and expand the Happy Jack Lodge operation by 250 RV sites, for a total of 650 sites.
“This gives us the opportunity to share this beautiful area with more people from the Valley and beyond. We are set up to manage recreational impact and influence behavior while providing support to both the Forest Service and recreationists,” she said. “The people who work here are wonderful ambassadors who love the forest and really enjoy welcoming and helping visitors. They also promote the Forest Service label and help educate people about the natural environment.”
Happy Jack’s role in early registration
Mongini also feels good about preserving a piece of Arizona history that played a key role in Flagstaff’s development. “We have been able to recycle, reuse and rehabilitate buildings and 2′ x 6′ boards from the lumber 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. “The Mormon pioneers brought a sawmill. It was first used to build a temple in St. George, Utah, in the late 19th century and then dismantled and moved to Mormon Lake to supply all the communities along the Little Colorado River with lumber. In those days, the wood was transported on carts pulled by oxen. They produced enough lumber for Flagstaff’s early start.”
Back then the area was known as Long Valley and it was the only way to cross the Mogollon Rim from Winslow to the Strawberry, Pine, Payson and Phoenix area. In the early 1900s, the Forest Service established the Long Valley Ranger Station.
Meanwhile, miners were testing manganese iron ore in the region. “The same thing was happening at Happy Jack. Manganese mining claims were filed, wells were dug by hand, but no one really developed them,” Greco said.
After World War II, a surplus of rubber-tired army vehicles were a welcome addition to the logging scene. “That’s when logging really flourished here,” Greco said. “The loggers converted the vehicles into logging trucks.”
In the early 1950s, the Saginaw and Manistee Lumber Company brought lumber trains, equipment, and employees to Flagstaff, about 40 miles northwest of Happy Jack. The logging families stayed in the logging camp at Happy Jack. “Life was very difficult for the people there,” he said. “There had been more than 500 people, we are talking about a land base of only five or six acres. There would have been very little privacy. But they had a water spring and hunting was a big problem.”
The company was taken over by Southwest Lumber Mills, according to sources citing Northern Arizona University Cline Library Archives and Special Collections. Southwest Lumber Mills was acquired by the Stone Container Company in 1987 and renamed Southwest Forest Industries in 1989.
“The natural beauty of the rim, the unique ecosystem, wildlife and nearby wilderness of West Clear Creek and Fossil Springs have drawn people here since the 19th century,” Greco said. “Happy Jack Lodge continues that unique experience of the American West that offers the solitude, serenity and beauty that people have long been searching for.
“It’s a special place,” Mongini said. “It feels great to invite people to the forest, where they can connect with nature. fbn
By Bonnie Stevens, FBN