(The Sunriver Resort recently completed the expansion of The Cove | Photo by Kristine Thomas)
Lauren Copelan understands why people choose to visit Sunriver year-after-year. And why after visiting, some decide to make Sunriver their home. “This community is the right amount of fun, active, relaxed and has a tight-knit community feel,” Copelan said.
Along with her fraternal twin Lisa and her husband, Chris, Copelan is the owner of The Fold Craft Pizza and Kitchen in The Village at Sunriver. The owner of restaurants in California has witnessed how food has the magic of bringing people together, something she gets to see daily when people visit her Sunriver restaurant.
The tight-knit community feel is what has helped businesses like hers endure the last year by working together to promote one another. She has volunteered at the Sunriver Music Festival’s Swings Fore Strings Golf Tournament and partnered with Hot Lava Bakery.
“Hot Lava freshly bakes the desserts we highlight on our menu,” Copelan said. “It gives the bakery customers a place to go after Hot Lava has closed to enjoy a sweet treat.”
Copelan has learned while Sunriver is a seasonal place with lots of visitors, there is a large population of locals. “We hope to be a staple in the community for years to come and rely on our local business just as much as the tourists,” she said. “Taking care of our locals is a big priority.”
Sunriver Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kent Elliott said Sunriver uniquely caters to serving both residents and tourists. “The chamber’s main purpose is to direct customers to our local businesses,” Elliott said. “We want to let customers know who the businesses are, what they do and how to find them,” Elliott said. “The chamber also works on a one-on-one basis to connect businesses with the resources they need to assist them with their specific issues.”
Last December, The Sunriver Area Chamber of Commerce was awarded a $40,000 grant from Deschutes County to provide critical support to local businesses during the pandemic.
Elliott said the grant was used to promote a “Shop Sunriver” campaign for retail businesses and restaurants by hosting several campaigns including shopping for Valentine’s Day, Spring Break, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.
“Our goal was to let both residents and visitors know they could find what they were looking for in Sunriver, without having to go elsewhere to purchase it,” Elliott said. “We also wanted to make people aware of the businesses and restaurants in the Sunriver area.”
Elliott said a portion of the grant was used to redesign the chamber’s website, which contains valuable information for residents, business owners and guests. “We redesigned the website to make it easier for people to find what they are looking for, whether it’s where to go for dinner, where to rent bikes or ski equipment, learn about Sunriver’s unique history or explore one of Sunriver’s many recreational opportunities,” Elliott said.
Elliott said the chamber assisted business in several ways during the pandemic including working with businesses and Deschutes County on COVID-19 grants, providing them with personal protection equipment such as gloves, masks and hand sanitizer and promoting businesses on its new webpage, Facebook and Instagram. From his many visits with local businesses, finding employees continues to be a challenge with several businesses adjusting their hours and days open.
“Currently things are slowly returning to normal,” he said. “Outdoor venues and activities have returned but indoor activities such as dining are limited. People should always check in advance on any venue or activity they plan to attend if registration or advanced tickets are required,” he said.
Aaron Schofield is the assistant vice president and branch manager at First Interstate Bank in Sunriver and a board of director for the Sunriver Area Chamber of Commerce. He shared Sunriver has its own economy that he believes to be somewhat self-sufficient.
“We actually saw business growth in the Sunriver area,” he said. “There were new businesses that opened from restaurants to homebased tech companies. We saw people moving to Sunriver from Portland and California.”
Sunriver’s stellar reputation as being a welcoming place for all along with its abundance of recreational opportunities have provided a strong foundation for the community to weather last year’s challenges and for the community to continue to support one another.
“Sunriver is a place everyone wants to visit or live,” Schofield said. “Sunriver is continuing to see strong growth with businesses welcoming guests and locals and homes continuing to sell.”
Deschutes County Commissioner Patti Adair also is on the chamber’s board of directors as well as being an advocate for the Sunriver area. “I feel in the last year the chamber has really done some good things to support the business community including its shop local campaign,” Adair said. “Sunriver is a dynamic and internationally recognized tourist destination. The county is committed to supporting Sunriver.”
Two examples of the continued growth in Sunriver are the Sunriver Nature Center and Observatory (SNCO) and Sunriver Resort.
SNCO has begun construction for expansion of its observatory, nearly doubling its footprint.
“SNCO’s observatory has seen a steady increase in demand and attendance over the past three decades, outpacing capacity. This expansion will ensure an improved visitor experience,” SNCO Executive Director Abby Rowland said. “We are grateful to have incredible support from the Murdock Trust and a community of donors to help us make this a reality.”
The organization is undergoing a two-phase expansion to increase the organization’s overall capacity and provide facilities that support contemporary exhibits to address the environmental themes of today. The first phase includes an expanded observatory and upgrading utilities infrastructure for the future building of the Discovery Center. The doubled capacity of the observatory will serve more visitors, including those who vacation in Sunriver, residents of Central Oregon and school groups from K-12 and higher education.
SNCO seeks to increase knowledge of basic physical and space science among students and visitors by creating an environment of discovery through hands-on and interactive experiences. At night, visitors can observe stars, planets and other deep sky objects in Sunriver’s dark skies. During the day, the observatory has specialized equipment for observing the sun. In the future, the expansion will allow the observatory to expand its programs with colleges and universities to access telescopes remotely for education and research.
Kellcon, Inc. of Bend is the general contractor for the project, which is expected to be completed in July of 2021. Site work has already begun on the expansion. “This is an exciting time for our organization. We’ve had this vision for our future, and we are thrilled to see it starting to come to fruition. Especially on the heels of such a challenging year for many,” said David Buhaly, president, SNCO board of directors.
The completion of the dome will make it the largest public observatory in the United States.
Sunriver Resort General Manager Thomas O’Shea understands there are many great options for people to vacation. He and his team are committed to making Sunriver a destination people want to return to generation after generation.
Last year, Sunriver Resort committed to $40 million in the next five years to capital improvements including renovating the resort’s 190 guest rooms, adding a 10,000-square-foot Aquatic Center at The Cove, adding space to The Backyard and creating an 18-hole putting course, enhancing the horse stables and trail network and improving the Sunriver Regional Airport.
With the recent historic heatwave in June, O’Shea said the completion of the aquatic’s facility came at a perfect time. “We now have more pools and places for people to enjoy,” he added.
The removal of Oregon’s COVID-19 restrictions on businesses means taking a look at what Sunriver Resort can start doing again, from conventions to concerts in The Backyard, he said.
In his 14th year as general manager, O’Shea shared the last year was the most challenging dealing with COVID restrictions. Like other Central Oregon businesses, it’s been challenging to find employees. There are currently 750 employees with the goal of having 900 to 1,000 when fully recovered. “Our goal has been and will continue to be providing the best experiences for our guests while also ensuring the safety of our guests, community members and employees,” he said.
O’Shea enjoys hearing the stories about how a person visited Sunriver as a child, then brought their children to visit and now bring their grandchildren. “I think Sunriver is a place you have to experience to truly understand it. It is a place where people have memories of enjoying as a child and want to return with their children and grandchildren,” he said. “It’s a place that embraces nature where you can go for a bike ride and see elk grazing in a meadow or views of Mt. Bachelor.”