Meet and Retreat

Unforgettable group getaways that are off the beaten path

By: By Marty Wentzel


Campbell House Inn and Restaurant
Commission: 10 percent

Five Pine Lodge
Commission: 10 percent

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When it comes to destinations for group getaways in Oregon, sometimes bigger isn’t always better. While hotels in major metropolitan areas boast such benefits as expansive ballrooms and state-of-the-art technology, sometimes a gathering works better when it’s away from the big city lights.

Five Pine Lodge is an eco-friendly resort in Sisters, Ore. // (c) Five Pine Lodge
Five Pine Lodge is an eco-friendly resort in Sisters, Oregon

Two properties illustrate this point to perfection. The first is Five Pine Lodge, an eco-friendly resort with strong selling points for groups of all sizes. Presided over by the Three Sisters Mountains, it is located in the town of Sisters, Ore., whose commercial district preserves the feeling of an 1880’s town with its eclectic shops, galleries and eateries.

"Once clients get to Sisters, they realize why it is a popular destination for tourists," said Chris Chester, travel trade coordinator for Travel Oregon. "In the summer, they can find places to bike, hike, fly-fish, canoe, kayak, golf and horseback ride on a working ranch. In the winter, they can alpine and cross-country ski, snowshoe or relax and enjoy a good book by a warm fire in their room. Sometimes, it’s just great to get away from the hustle and bustle of metropolitan areas and enjoy meetings in a setting that reminds them of why it is important to enjoy what nature offers, as opposed to cement, concrete and city noises."

Five Pine Lodge is a family affair. It is owned by Bill and Zoe Willitts, and much of it was built by their son Greg, who now serves as the lodge’s president. The craftsman design is well suited to its surroundings, a pine-forested meadow at the base of the Three Sisters. Guestrooms feature fireplaces, 42-inch, flat-screen televisions, hand-built craftsman furniture and waterfall tubs.

For groups, Five Pine Lodge scores big points with its Teresa Conference Center, located across a wooden bridge from the lodge itself. Meeting rooms of various sizes feature beautiful, wood-burning fireplaces and the latest in technology.

"We customize each gathering, focusing on the particular needs of each group," said Bill Willitts. "Our own catering kitchen provides fresh healthy meals and, thanks to our own Three Creeks Brewing Company, we can brew beer right on the property."

Capitalizing on its setting, a natural backdrop of forests, mountains and water, Five Pine Lodge can set up adventures to heighten the group experience. Coordinating with its partner Wanderlust Tours, it creates adventures year-round. The GPS Eco-Challenge, for instance, pits team against team across a ponderosa-studded landscape. The group cave tour take clients to a hidden underground world for a look at lava formations and area wildlife. Clients can also canoe on nearby Clear Lake. Come evening, an astronomer can teach the group about black holes, constellations and the Milky Way during a stargazing program.

If Eugene, Ore., is a better fit for clients, recommend the Campbell House Inn and Restaurant run by Myra Plant and Jeffrey Parker. The Campbell House was built in 1892 and restored in the tradition of a European boutique hotel, with small- to medium-sized banquet rooms boasting rich woodwork. It is adjacent to 10 miles of park property for hiking and walking in between meetings, and its gardens and patios make great outdoor spaces for sunny-day sessions. Groups staying at the inn get complimentary wireless high-speed Internet access, athletic club passes, free breakfast and local and toll-free calls.

"Our mission is to create magical experiences, and we apply that to every reservation," said Myra Plant. "From our in-house professional chef to a personal assistant who can assist with equipment needs and other group services, we go the extra mile with our personalized service."

A big selling point for Eugene groups is Tolly’s Restaurant and Soda Fountain, also owned by the Plants. Built in the late 1800s and finished in 1908, the brick, two-story building features a patio and banquet hall for gatherings enhanced by old-fashioned charm. Upstairs are two banquet spaces with wing-backed chairs seating up to 50 people per room. There’s also a patio with a koi fish pond and a 5,000-square-foot banquet hall with a stage.

Like Sisters, Eugene offers popular shopping venues and provides plenty of outdoor activities during all seasons. After a few days in such memorable surroundings, most groups find themselves renewed and ready to return to the constant challenges of the business world.