For nearly 90 years, family vacations have been held, and traditions made at The Forks Resort on the south shore of Bass Lake, the past 75 years under the ownership of the same family, now in its third generation.
Whether it’s walking to The Forks store for ice cream while camping at the nearby Forks campground, or renting the same cabin every year for a family vacation, the nostalgic resort has a special place in the hearts and memories of generations of Bass Lake visitors, as well as Mountain Area residents.
The resort was first built in 1927, consisting of four cabins, a general store and a saw mill, sitting at the edge of a dirt road (Road 222). Some of the cabins were used as dormitories to house employees working on the expansion of the dam.
After years of fishing at Bass Lake, Robert ‘Bob’ Miller, an attorney from Oakland, purchased a vacation home on the north shore in 1939. When he was practicing law, he often would take shares in companies in lieu of cash payments for his services. Over the years, he owned shares in many business including Yellow Cab Co. in San Francisco, and the Oakland Oaks baseball team.
When The Forks Resort became available in 1941 by then owner Fred Spenhoff, it didn’t surprise Miller’s family that he bought it - and whether providing a clean and comfortable cabin, or a hearty meal, the business has provided consistency and quality to its customers for the past 75 years.
Miller spent his summers at Bass Lake running The Forks Resort and winters at his home in Oakland.
In 1948, Miller tore down the lumber mill and remodeled the store to include a lunch counter and the “Forks Burger” was born. Nearly two million burgers have been served since then.
In 1949, a short in an ice cream freezer caused a fire that burned the store and one cabin to the ground. The Forks Resort store and restaurant was rebuilt in time for the 1950 summer season.
Frank Hopkins meets Patricia Miller
Frank Hopkins met Bob Miller’s younger daughter, Patricia, while they were students at University of California, Berkeley. They were married in 1950 and moved to Bass Lake to run the resort and start a family. By 1953 they had three children, but sadly in 1955, Patricia died from a brain tumor and Frank moved his children back to Oakland to be closer to family.
In 1967, Bob was ready to retire and Frank was ready to come back to Bass Lake.
In 1981, Frank’s daughter Leslie and her husband, Ron Cox, were working in Fresno as accountants when Frank announced his retirement. Leslie and Ron quit their jobs, moved to Bass Lake, and as they say, the rest is history.
Family operated with dedicated employees
The resort today includes 13 cabins, boat rentals, a 50-seat restaurant, general store, patio dining, and a kitchen that has been expanded twice. Even with upgrades and improvements, people walking into the resort often say they feel like they just stepped back to the 50s.
The consistency of The Forks Resort comes not only from being owned and family-operated for 75 years, but from many employees and their families who have worked there over the years.
Les and Alta Mathes managed the resort for 39 years - Barbara Smalley was a kitchen manager for 19 years - Lara Peltier was a cook for 21 years - Richard Murley was a cook and host for 17 years - and Pearl Heath was a cook for 16 years, to name a few. Several families have had three generations work at The Forks.
Among current employees, two sisters, Susi Gordon and Heidi Wilkinson, have worked at The Forks for a combined 54 years - Gordon as a food server for 32 years, and Wilkinson as a housekeeper for 22 years. Gordon and Wilkinson’s sister-in-law, Robin Price, has been the store manager for 27 years.
“I remember walking into The Forks for lunch with my sister Heidi in 1984 at the age of 29, and thinking this could be a fun place to work and I can serve food,” said Gordon, now 61. “After 32 years, I still love this place. As the saying goes, ‘choose a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life’ ... that’s me at The Forks.”
Other current long-term employees include Stacey Martin (cook - 17 years), Maria Eames (server - 16 years), Amanda Barker (server - 13 years), and Eric Hollender (cook - 11 years). Many other employees have been there for five to 10 years.
The resort will celebrate its 90th birthday next year.
Jerry and Sandy Childs of La Crescenta decided in 2001 to purchase a ski boat as a way to bring the family together for some quality time.
“The closest lake that would meet all our family vacation needs was Bass Lake,” Jerry said. “Although a five hour drive, it was doable for our families.”
“It was in April of 2001 that we decided to take a weekend trip to Bass Lake,” Sandy recollects. “The lake itself was beautiful. Then we found the jackpot: The Forks Resort ... It was perfect for our needs.”
Sandy said another benefit for her was that The Forks at the time was family-owned and had been in operation more than 60 years.
Scott Rossall, 59, of Escondido, has been visiting The Forks Resort with his parents, aunts and uncles, and cousins since he was 5 years old.
“Bass Lake and The Forks was a place my mom and dad could truly relax and enjoy themselves and their family,” Rossall said. “Some of my earliest and fondest memories were swimming, fishing and hiking around the Forks campground where we stayed in the early years. I remember walking to The Forks in the early morning with my dad where he would enjoy some toast and a cup of hot tea while sitting at the counter where he and Pearl would catch up.”
Over the years, the family ‘upgraded’ from the Forks campground to Cabin 5 at The Forks Resort.
Those early vacations at the lake have turned into an annual family reunion for Scott and his wife of 34 years Jeanie, their son, daughter, grandchildren, and other extended family members. His mother, Barbara, now 88, will be making her 55th vacation trip to the lake for the family reunion in July.
“Our trips to Bass Lake were and still are very special to me and my family,” Rossall said. “I only wish my kids and my grandchildren could have experienced the task of getting blocks of ice from The Forks ice building and carrying them back to camp, or in these days, back to Cabin 5, our home away from home.”
Walkers will celebrate 40th Anniversary with Forks Burgers
Dan and Sally Walker of Oakhurst, like many in the Mountain Area, are also big fans of The Forks, and appreciate the business being there all these years.
After Sally’s dad, Hugh Shollenbarger, said “yes” when Dan Walker asked his future father-in-law for Sally’s hand in marriage, they all decided to go to the The Forks for a celebration dinner.
Since selecting The Forks on July 19, 1977, not a year has gone by that they have not been at The Forks on that date for their “anniversary” Forks Burger. This year will mark the couple’s 40th Anniversary.
“The ‘guest list’ for this special occasion has changed with the birth of children and grandchildren, the passing of parents, the coming and going of friends and family ... but one thing remains consistent ... we will be at The Forks on July 19 of every year, Lord willing,” Sally said.
“It is who I am”
Looking back over the past 36 years, Leslie Cox said owning and running the business has been a part of her throughout her whole life.
“It is not just what I do but it is who I am,” Cox said. “I know I am very lucky to be born into this family and this legacy and I have never taken it for granted. I love what I do and my customers and employees are a constant reminder of what a privilege it is to be a part of The Forks and our Bass Lake community. For many of our customers, The Forks is a place where they can get a burger and I can get a hug. What’s not to love about that?
“The Forks Resort has had the privilege of giving approximately 400 local high school students their first jobs,” Cox continued. “Some of these kids have gone on to be doctors, lawyers, pilots, scientists, teachers, policemen, and even movie stars. Many still send graduation announcements, wedding invitations, birth announcements, Christmas cards, and stop by whenever they are in town to say hello.”
Ron and Leslie have been Bass Lake Chamber of Commerce board members since the mid-80s and Leslie has served as president since 2007.
Ron and Leslie’s children are currently both pursuing their careers. Adam, a 2001 Yosemite High graduate, is a special education teacher at Granite Ridge Junior High in Clovis and McKenzie, a 2002 YHS graduate, is director of operations and personnel for the Cal Poly School of Business.
“Hopefully some day Adam and McKenzie will want to continue the family business,” Leslie said.
But if not, Ron and Leslie may have to hold out for Huxley Adam Cox, their first grandchild, born in December 2015.
Huxley - can you say “Forks Burger?”
Birthday Party Saturday
The Forks Resort will celebrate its 75th birthday of being owned and operated by the Miller, Hopkins and Cox families this Saturday.
Long time Mountain Area resident and musician Billy Price will play 1 - 4 p.m. Saturday near The Forks patio, and complimentary birthday cake will be served with every meal.
T-shirts signifying the 75th anniversary will be for sale Saturday and throughout the summer.
Details: The Forks Resort, 39150 Road 222, Bass Lake, (559) 642-3737, www.forksresort.com.