Restored Lodge offers retreats, rustic getaway in the Nantahala National Forest

out frNestled deep in the mountains between Sylva and Cashiers, the scenic U.S. Forest Service Balsam Lodge is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year with a makeover. Throughout the summer and fall, portions of the lodge were restored by student carpentry and facilities maintenance crews from the Oconaluftee Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center, a job training center for at-risk teens located in the nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park.


Thom Saylors, recreation staff officer with the Nantahala National Forest, was excited to see the project come to life.

“There are lots of things that need rehabilitation or upgrades every year across the forest,” Saylors said. “Balsam Lodge sees lots of visitors every year so it is great to see the work being done to make it better.” 

Students spent more than 260 hours doing everything from installing hundreds of new decking pickets to extensive painting and pressure washing the patios. The joint project, between the Forest Service and the Job Corps, allows students to learn skills in a work environment while assisting the government with labor.

Learning those skills can be challenging with an older structure like the lodge.

“Rehabilitation projects of older buildings always present their own challenges because you have use analytical skills to meld old and new components together for a cohesive look and functionality,” said Aleta Haynes, Oconaluftee’s facilities maintenance instructor.

Student Leroy Payne-Drake agreed.

“We had to be extra careful to protect existing stonework and concrete from paint and other damage,” he said. 

Students also learned how to repair surfaces for proper paint finishing, material storage safety, use of portable power tools and how to work in a seven-person crew. Employability skills like following directions, transitioning from task to task and working to identify and correct mistakes are also a huge part of work projects out in the field.

“Our mission is to provide career training and assist in the conservation national public resources — this project accomplishes both,” Oconaluftee’s Liaison Specialist Holly Krake said. “By working with the great staff of the Nantahala Ranger District, our students are able to gain both the hard and soft skills that will carry them throughout their career.”

The Oconaluftee Job Corps is associated with the National Forests of North Carolina and serves 104 students. or


What is Balsam  Lake Lodge?

Balsam Lake Lodge is located in the Tuckasegee area of Jackson County within the Nantahala National Forest. The lodge overlooks the eight-acre Balsam Lake and offers spectacular mountain views. 

Groups and families have rented the lodge for meetings, recreation and environmental activities.

A dense forest of mixed deciduous and conifer trees hug the shoreline of the tranquil Balsam lake. There are three short hiking trails, several fishing piers and a picnic area. Anglers can fish for trout in Balsam Lake. It’s also open to non-motorized boating.

The lodge has 16 twin beds (some bunks) complete with linens and pillows, a kitchen with all utensils and appliances, outside grills, three bathrooms with flush toilets, one roll-in wheelchair shower, firewood, fireplace, gas heat and electricity.

The lodge is $170 a night between Sunday and Thursday $170 and $200 per night on Friday and Saturday. Minimum stay of two nights on weekends.

To reserve the lodge, call 877.444.6777 or go to

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