Gateway Lodge: Instilling New Life in a Cook Forest Treasure
Since 2006, the daily operations and maintenance at the lodge located along Route 36 in Cooksburg have been managed by owner Deb Adams, along with her daughter and son-in-law, Jody and Ernest Fesco.
Born in Johnstown, Adams grew up with three brothers. Her mother was well-versed in traditional farming and housekeeping, and her father worked for the Bethlehem Railroad.
Hunting, fishing, and foraging were part of her family’s way of life.
Adams told exploreClarion.com that opportunity and hard work led her on a path to her own entrepreneurial endeavors.
By 2006, Adams had a well-established retail business in Grove City, but “her interest in hospitality and her love for Cook Forest” supported her decision to purchase the Gateway Lodge property and relocate to the area as she then transitioned out of the retail scene.
Gateway Lodge’s accommodations include 23 suites, each with their own gas fireplace and jetted tub, plus four recently-remodeled guest rooms called the Gallery Rooms, which include a rainfall shower in each and heated bathroom floors. Also on the property are 12 cabins, ranging from family-sized to romantic options for just two.
According to Adams, purchasing a property that had existed and evolved since 1934 meant more responsibility than she could have ever anticipated – with the property requiring repairs, rebuilding, and improvements. Early on, many investments were “behind the scenes” improvements that helped improve the integrity of the buildings.
In more recent years, she has been able to invest in ways that improve the aesthetic of the Lodge.
In 2014, the second story of the original log cabin was completely renovated, deconstructing eight small rooms, and rebuilding this space into four larger bedrooms called the Gallery Rooms. The rooms comprise of reclaimed wood material and barn-style sliding doors and showcase a gallery of historical photographs and illustrations of the area.
In 2016, construction continued with the demolition of two cabins and the construction of two new Luxury Cabins providing a romantic and beautiful space for couples celebrating.
Each of the newer Luxury Cabins includes a loft bedroom with a queen bed, a living room, kitchen and bathroom with dual shower-heads, and a jacuzzi tub on a screened back porch. An outdoor deck was also uniquely crafted with a campfire ring for extra creature comfort.
In 2019, the family decided a project on the bucket list from 13 years earlier was finally approachable: a new kitchen.
Adams and her family have put a great deal of energy into their restaurant, offering well-noted tasting dinners with wine pairings, extending packaged services to corporate retreats and wedding celebrations, and even collaborating with other culinary craftsmen to offer unique outdoor dining events. Even so, all of the efforts initially took place in a not-so-efficient, subpar kitchen.
It was important to Adams to be able to offer a better atmosphere for her and her culinary team to work in, so she invested time developing a design that would support her farm-to-forest efforts.
The project began in the early spring and was finally completed in October of 2019. While she noted there were some surprises along the way – one being the demolition and rebuilding of the back dining area due to a compromised foundation – it was also decided that an outdoor patio would be a great finishing touch to the exterior facade.
As with any transition, adversity is bound to strike. The process could not have been possible without the diligence and support of a dedicated contracting team, loyal employees, and a family that sticks together through life’s challenges, according to Adams.
“During this most recent season of stripping away, we looked at ways as a business that we could be more sustainable for our growing family,” Adams explained, adding that the family has grown in recent years, and now includes six grandchildren along with her three children, and also a new housemate, her mother, or “GiGi,” as the children call her.
Jody Fesco said that “building a business in rural America is not for the faint at heart.”
Another more recent change is a defined availability in the winter season to the days of Wednesday through Saturday. Gateway Lodge offers winter specials within these days, including extras like a free massage with a two-night Suite stay or sparkling wine and truffles with a Gallery Room stay. Some of their cabins are also being offered a reduced rate for four nights.
While all of the updates, improvements, and changes have allowed Adams and her family to offer even better experiences for their guests, the heart of the business has remained the same: a family business that strives to invest back into the local community.
“We love sharing our favorite places with our guests,” Ernest Fesco noted.
Adams noted she is also an advocate buying local and supporting local tradespeople, often hiring help within the community and sourcing food from local farms.
Adams added that renovating and being good stewards of Gateway Lodge is how their family shows their faith in what PA travel associations call “The PA Wilds.”
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