by Daniel G. Houle

HAVE YOU EVER DREAMED OF OWNING A RESORT?

If you enjoy the outdoors, the classic answer is yes. After all, who wouldn't want to pack the vehicle and head north for resort living at their favorite lake?

Steve and Val Engelman turned that dream into a reality by purchasing Kitchi Landing Resort on the Cass Lake Chain near Bemidji, Minnesota in the fall of 2017. They packed personal belongings, swaddled newborn son Bhodi, and headed into the Northwoods for adventure and outdoor living.

"Steve and I found ourselves trying to escape the city to nature as much as we could. That's when we decided it was time to make a life change. We didn't know we'd end up at a fishing resort, let alone one my Great Grandfather owned during the late 1940's! Steve's home office job was key in making this move possible. We immediately updated the website towards online bookings and payments. Facebook and Instagram sites were implemented to connect with current guests and the next generation of families making Kitchi Landing their "go to" northern MN destination for fishing family fun."  Val Engelman of Kitchi Landing Resort

Baby boomers are retiring at record numbers across all industries in the United States. Minnesota's family resort industry is experiencing that change. Premiere family owned resorts not offered publicly in decades are now coming on the market. When Engelman's purchased Kitchi Landing Resort, it was the first time on the public market for over 30 years.

Current buyers of family and fishing resorts come from all walks of life and are coming from all over the world to buy. Emerging demographic groups are corporate employees who have simply had enough, tech savvy young couples, hospitality professionals, fishing and hunting enthusiasts, along with early retirees looking for some true north adventure... all coming to vest in their own operation.

"As hospitality and restaurant managers, we decided to venture into our own business. Tourism on the North Shore is strong in the summers and good in the winters. We changed some staffing, upgraded some cabin rooms, and implemented our new business plan."        Tom and Jelena McAleer of Cascade Lodge, Lake Superior

Minnesota resort-based tourism is flourishing across the state. There are approximately 800 established resorts generating over 281 million dollars annually to the state's total 14.4 billion dollar tourism economic impact. Minnesota's fishing industry alone contributes over 2.8 billion dollars. RV sales in the U.S just topped the 500,000 unit mark. Many resort owners have added RV campgrounds and are now cashing in on that lucrative business.

We often read about smaller mom-and-pop resorts struggling to find their niche. New financing options and industrious buyers are making a difference. Recent years have seen more buyers bring "home office jobs" with them. Young couples buying are electing to keep the resort open during winter months or work extra jobs to help build equity in their new million dollar venture. These are excellent options for smaller resorts and we are confident that this new trend will create a platform that stabilizes our smaller resorts.

Large established resorts are open for business and have strong positive cash flow for new owners. These full-service operations are part of our Minnesota culture that are here to stay. Resort Associations such as the Community of Minnesota Resorts (CMR) give resorters administrative support for marketing, operating, and implementing their business plans to grow and sustain new or existing resort operations.

"The growing tourism business is strong. Our motto is 'Resorters helping Resorters' and our family-like atmosphere is fun and financially rewarding." Karen Senger of Community of Minnesota Resorts

Premiere resorts and campgrounds are in four distinct regions. Central Minnesota and the Brainerd Lakes Region, western Minnesota around the Alexandria area, Lake Superior's North Shore, and of course the classic north that stretches clear to the Canadian Border. 

These iconic resorts have solid histories and can be financed through local community banks using your home equity or savings, or using tax deferred and penalty free 401K programs as down payments. 

If you're thinking of changing your day job for some lakeside living, simply pick your region and start the journey for a new lifestyle and adventure at a Minnesota resort. Take it from these folks, now is the time. 

Here's a glimpse of several resort owner/operators who are making new waves in the industry!

BEACHSIDE RESORT

by Ben Lapinski

"I was raised in Isle, MN and I have always loved the people from this small community. I went to breakfast one morning at Walleye Dundee's resort in Wahkon, MN with some friends. While there I noticed that the restaurant and entire resort was for sale. I am a real estate investor and have a passion for breathing new life into older properties. I was actively looking for my next investment but I never imagined it would be a resort on my hometown lake. Before I knew it, I was sitting across the closing table from the previous owners who were looking forward to retirement and were ready to pass the reins on to me. Within one hour after closing some good friends and family got to work and started ripping off old roofs, tearing out old carpeting, and transforming the old resort into something I could take pride in. 

"I have owned the resort for less than two years and in that time we have added new RV sites and new electric; we renovated the old camp bathrooms, updated the cabins with pine tongue and groove, new mattresses, bedding, and appliances; we installed new sewer services for the RV sites, updated the café appliances and flooring, re-decked the dock, added some new Ice Castle fish houses and plow trucks for the winter business, and much more. We don't have everything done yet that we want to accomplish but we are well on our way! We are seeing the fruits of our labor with repeat customers and business is trending in the right direction. We feel that we have one of the best spots on the lake with some of the most beautiful sunsets around, and we hope you will come and stay with us and enjoy all that Mille Lacs has to offer."

THE ALLURE OF BOWEN LODGE

by Jens Heig

"The real world exists at Bowen Lodge. This is what I tell people as they climb in their cars to go home, typically after a mournful comment about how it's time to return to reality. For most, it's back to a desk for eight hours a day, probably more. While the lifestyle for the guests is far from ordinary, the state of mind is real. Many years of hard work has achieved that. The comfort and relaxation that people experience at Bowen Lodge reveals many wonderful characters, which makes me believe that we get to see our guests for who they truly are.

"After five years of following the traditional path out of college, this idea is what drew me and my better half away from the corporate workplace and back to where I was raised. As a child, I could never grasp how extraordinary this place was, because to me it was ordinary, everyday life. Nearly a decade had passed since I had spent a full season here. Now I look over the expanse of Lake Winnibigoshish, at the manicured grounds and cabins that my parents, Bill and Gail, have tirelessly improved over 35 years, at the towering old-growth forest surrounding the property, at familiar smiling faces that return year after year. I can now grasp that maybe Mom and Dad knew a thing or two about how to achieve a higher standard of life. Maybe, just maybe, taking a hike is a better alternative to climbing the proverbial ladder.

"It's a philosophy that is woven into the moral fabric of Bowen Lodge and what provides the quality of "real." When people step out of their car, they soon realize that it isn't like other destinations with hardline policies or a staff that believes a minimum effort is acceptable. Our number one goal is to make guests feel like our cabin is their cabin. That they can feel at home at Bowens. It takes tremendous effort from a diverse group of people to make that happen, but year after year that magic pours into the hearts of those who come here. And they love it. Traditions are formed, children raised, memories created. For so many, their vacation at Bowen Lodge has become an all but permanent fixture in their lives. It's about more than just clean sheets. It's about having a place to pare down the façade of daily living and transcend to a truer state of being, to reveal a person without stress or the need to be someone they don't want to be.

"That's why I tell them that this is real life, that Bowen Lodge is the real world. To me, when people can buy in to that mentality, it is the first step to attaining the state of mind that exists at this resort. Seeing this phenomenon is one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever known and being away helped me recognize how special it is. Step away from the desk, for there is only one way to begin understanding the timeless allure of Bowen Lodge."

GLENMORE RESORT

by Paul and Mickey Hrvol

WHERE VACATION MEMORIES ARE MADE AND TIME STANDS STILL...

"When we would vacation on Lake Vermilion we did not want to leave and every year it became harder and harder until one day we realized this is where we wanted to live. This is where are hearts were. Once our kids were out of high school we decided to make the move. After searching all over the state and making a list of what we wanted, we found Glenmore Resort and realized it was the resort for us. So, after thirty years on our jobs, we packed up the U-Haul and left central Illinois for the great Northwoods of Minnesota. 

"Glenmore Resort is unique in that we offer a full array of rental cabins, rental boats, private boat launch, fuel sales, bait, ice, and very nice boat docks while still being small enough to treat you like family. When we purchased the resort it had seven cabins. Since then, we have added an eighth cabin and two new rental boats, updated two cabins, and plan on making continuous updates in the years to come. We want our guests to walk into their cabin and experience the Northwoods feeling for themselves. 

"Escape to the great Northwoods of Minnesota and reserve your cabin now. Come and explore Lake Vermilion's 1200 miles of spectacular shoreline and more than 365 rocky, pine-studded islands. Fish for walleye, perch, northerns, muskie, smallmouth bass, and panfish. Relax on our two sand beaches. Enjoy boating, badminton, volleyball, horseshoes, hiking, biking, bird watching, and playground. Free Wi-Fi. 

"We are also open in the wintertime for those who like the snow. One can leave the resort from our boat landing and head onto the lake to access several snowmobile trails. In the evening, enjoy a warm fire in your cabin." 

HUNGRY HIPPIE HOSTEL + FARM

by Jeremy Keeble

A STEP UP ON THE NORTH SHORE TRAILS

When Kate and Jeremy Keeble, along with their two young children, first moved to Grand Marais, they envisioned farming on a small scale, but the reality of working full-time jobs put that on the back burner.

They purchased The Hungry Hippie Farm in October of 2012 with the dream of turning an old horse barn with stunning acreage and views of Lake Superior into economical housing for hikers... just like they had once experienced on the Appalachian Trail. The farm is located on the North Shore of Lake Superior. At just under 10 acres, the farm rests about 600 feet above the lake presenting amazing panoramic views. Sunsets and sunrises are amazing!

The farm came with about a dozen apple trees and several acres of cleared land, which is hard to find in Cook County, MN. "We've expanded the garden, raised a hoop house, and hope to be growing more food this spring! Keep an eye on our blog as Kate writes about the recipes she creates with the food we grow, Hostel life, and happenings on the farm. Cheers!"


BUCKHORN ON CARIBOU LAKE

by Ben Lapinski

"In the summer of 1997, my husband Tim and I learned that the resort, Buckhorn on Caribou, was for sale. The owners of 25 years were retiring and wanted a log home built on a lake a few miles away. As owner of Top Notch Log Homes, Tim had been building log homes for people for the past two decades and wanted a place to build a few big log lodges large enough for extended families and friends to gather year-round. At the time there was no VRBO or Airbnb and the only way to build our dream and offer short term rentals was to operate as a licensed resort. This place - with the old lodge, five little cabins, 40 acres, and 1100 feet of lakeshore - would be perfect.

"In the winter of 1997-98 we started building two log cabins. One as a down payment to the previous owners, and the other would be resort Cabin #6. Those first log lodges were completed the following summer and by 2005 we had constructed three big log cabins each on its own 200 feet of lakeshore, giving us the option of selling each individually if and when the time came. When our youngest was a freshman and our oldest a senior in college, we decided to sell something and so we would retire the log building business. We were about to put one of the log places on the market when a young family came to stay. They expressed an interest in buying one of our log places, but they had a love for historic buildings and the old lodge and two small cabins fit the bill. For nearly 20 years we had nursed those old places along, repairing sagging floors, bad foundations, and roofs where the big pines in the yard had fallen. Now this new family would take over that duty. 

"Finally, 20 years later and our Buckhorn Project is just about complete. Two years ago, we built a log pavilion for our daughter's wedding. This past summer we replaced our two old cottages with two small year-round log cabins. Tim retired his log home building business, and we hope to keep Buckhorn on Caribou Lake log lodges going for generations. And we're pleased that the other Buckhorn Project assures the same by bringing the old lodge and its out buildings back to their structural state of 1938." 

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