Steve and Kim Bondi turned the North Cascades Basecamp into an educational experience
By Don Nelson
Six years ago, Steve and Kim Bondi purchased the North Cascades Basecamp intending to turn the rustic lodge and its surroundings into an outdoor, year-round ecological and environmental education workshop.
This week, the Bondis spent their last night at the Basecamp with the satisfaction of having achieved that goal.
The Bondis recently sold the Basecamp, which is on Lost River Road a few miles west of Mazama, to the Bush School in Seattle. The school will use the facilities as a satellite campus for its own environmental education programs.
The new owners took over on Monday (Aug. 15). The Bondis and their two children, Amelia, 12, and Emmet, 8, are moving to a new home on Highway 20 a few miles west of Winthrop. They don’t have immediate plans other than a family trek to Tanzania for several months this fall.
The Bondi family moved to the Methow Valley full-time in 2002. Kim was previously a wildlife biologist for the Pacific Biodiversity Institute and the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife. Steve was stewardship director for the Methow Conservancy. They bought the Basecamp — at the time, it had been called North Cascades Lodge for several years — from the Kerns family in 2006. The facility was founded as North Cascades Basecamp by Dick and Sue Roberts in the 1980s.
The Bondis began considering the Basecamp when the Kerns put it on the market. “We were thinking about an environmental education center,” Kim said. “Our goal was to have an open facility where people could meet and be introduced to our community ethic.”
“It was an existing business with a track record,” Steve said. “We knew a lot about it and saw a lot of opportunity.”
“And,” he added with a grin, “we were a little crazy.”
Although they had no previous business experience, the Bondis had some applicable skills in managing programs, budgets and personnel.
An early priority was to increase business in the summer, as the Basecamp was well established as a winter retreat. “We found that winter is very different from summer,” Kim said. “That was another learning curve.”
An important feature the Bondis added was a classroom converted from a storage building, so they could host retreats and other events. They also launched the popular soup dinner series of environmental presentations on Thursday nights during the winter months. “We wanted something to set us apart,” Steve said.
“And bring in local people,” Kim added.
The Bondis began contemplating selling the Basecamp a couple of years ago, assuming that it might take a while to market such a property. Being closer to school activities after the family moves will be an advantage for their children, the Bondis said.
The Bondis say they have enduring memories of the Basecamp. “The property is beautiful,” Kim said of the 20-acre site. “There’s nothing better in the valley.”
“We’ve met some incredible people along the way,” she said, including some visitors who return regularly to the Basecamp year after year.
Because the Bondis worked where they lived, Kim said, the children “had us here all the time.” Amelia and Emmet pitched in to help when necessary, she said. “It was fun to watch them develop as individuals,” Kim said.
Steve said that one of the best aspects of owning the lodge was being able to work with his wife and spend time with his children. “It’s a family business. The kids are right here,” he said.
Steve said he also appreciated “the seasonality” of the Basecamp’s setting, with differing weather and clientele depending on the time of year. And he learned a lot about what it takes to operate a small business, Steve said.
On their last night at the Basecamp, the Bondis hosted a small wedding. Kim reflected for a moment about the intensity of running a lodging establishment and educational center for half-a-dozen years, as the hot day wound down into a pleasantly cool evening.
“I may miss the busy-ness of it,” she said.