Progress Edition 2022: Generations of families enjoy Whitefish Chain, including owners
The resorts of the Whitefish Chain remain locally owned and operated, and many have been owned by the same families for generations.
Vacations on the Whitefish Chain, though modernized, have remained largely unchanged for nearly a century.
The list of amenities has grown, and the toys have gotten bigger, but some of the same resorts remain from when they were first opened in the 1930s or ‘40s.
“It sounds odd, but several years ago we put in air-conditioning, and (before that) we didn’t have air-conditioning,” said Mike Schwieters, owner of Boyd Lodge on Lower Whitefish and Rush lakes.
Schwieters has seen the modernization in resorting first hand. His maternal grandfather, Lynn Boyd, started the resort in 1945, beginning with a tent cabin and slowly building more. When Schwieters’ grandparents were killed in a car accident in 1966, his mother returned with her family to the resort she grew up at. Schwieters grew up during an era of resorting boom. He saw the installation of the first swimming pool at Boyd Lodge. When he eventually took over, he helped lead the expansion of the resort, adding seven new cottages and a main office and store with a small gathering space to join the 17 three-to-five bedroom cabins.
“Everything’s bigger and better. We’ve got dishwashers and gas grills instead of charcoal grills and air-conditioning and screen porches,” Schwieters said. “That stuff’s changed, but the feel of when you're here, hopefully, has stayed somewhat the same.”
Schwieters is one of many running a family-owned resort on the Whitefish Chain. Every resort on the chain is privately owned and operated, with most having been in the family for at least two generations.
Compared to the rest of the lake, Karen and Dan Scholz, Beacon Shores Resort, are relatively new to the resorting business. They’ve owned the resort for 21 years and were customers at the resort for 23 years before that, beginning in 1978 with Karen and two of her friends’ senior trip.
The Scholz’s have seen the same demand for bigger and better at their two-unit resort on Lower Whitefish Lake, just down the road from Boyd Lodge.
“When (Karen) first came up here, a boat came with the cabin. So they rowed out, and that’s what you did. That was it,” Dan Scholz said.
“They want more than that,” Karen Scholz said.
“Now, you rent pontoons, and you rent fishing boats,” Dan Scholz said. “And the fishing boats can’t be the little rowboats; they’ve got to have a depth finder and a live well.”
Even though customers are often asking for more, resorts have retained their uniqueness.
“There’s such a variety of resorts and styles in our area that if somebody really wants super rustic, they can do that,” Schwieters said. “If they want the spa treatment, they can find that.”
It seems especially on the Whitefish Chain, once a family finds the resort that’s right for them, they’ll be customers for decades. Some resorts have been hosting the same families for five generations.
“One of the things we learned when you’re resorting is that almost all of our customers are repeat customers. They come back year after year after year, and you grow so incredibly close with the families,” Dan Scholz said. “You watch the generations turn and grow, and they almost become an extended part of your family.”
The Scholzes have been invited to numerous weddings and multiple funerals. More than anything, they’ve seen engagements.
“It’s amazing. It’s like, ‘This is my favorite place; it’s where I want to get engaged,’” Dan Scholz said. “So they get engaged here, and then we always try and do something special.”
With so many years spent together and a tight-knit community at the resorts, the owners and customers create genuine connections, different from other business relationships. Familial themes surround everything at resorts.
You watch the generations turn and grow, and they almost become an extended part of your family.
“When COVID happened, what was kind of a cool reset is families that sort of just took for granted that you can just go hang out with each other, all of a sudden (couldn’t),” Schwieters said. “All of a sudden, people went, ‘Hey, family is kind of a priority, and when it wasn’t there, we really missed it.’”
So families flocked where they felt the closest: resorts. Schwieters said across the state people were looking to vacation following the pandemic. Often, they did so to get back together with the people that matter most to them.
When the COVID-19 pandemic first began in March 2020, Beacon Shores saw significant cancellations. However, by July 2020, as people got sick of lockdowns, Beacon Shores was full for the rest of the summer and even into early fall. Most resorts saw very similar patterns.
At Boyd Lodge, the pandemic presented a new opportunity. Because they were unsure what the summer would look like, they switched from their regular model of weeklong rentals in the summer to allowing any reservations. At the same time, they told their many repeat customers that if they weren’t comfortable coming that summer, their spot would still be locked in for the following year.
Removing the weeklong rental rule brought an influx of new customers looking to get away for just a few days. But, like many others before them, once they stayed, the new customers were eager to return. It made scheduling a challenge the next summer, but Schwieters said it was a good problem to have.
“Some we were able to accommodate, others we had to switch to different weeks or something to make things work,” said Schwieters.
While Boyd Lodge returned to their weeklong rentals for the summer months, Schwieters anticipates they’ll need to allow short-term rentals again in the future as people work more and vacation less.
“I remember back when I was here growing up, there were a lot of people that (stayed for) two weeks. There were certain weeks when almost everybody stayed two weeks,” said Schwieters. “And now that is super rare. There’s a ton of pressure to move to shorter stays.”
Weeklong rentals save the resort on cleaning costs, but part of it is preserving tradition, too.
As vacationing, and the Whitefish Chain, becomes more extravagant, resorts grow further from their roots as simple getaways to the lake. Many resort owners want to preserve that history. Some simplicity, though, ages out.
“When we tore down the old 1940s cabins it was kind of, pull a nail, wipe a tear, because we really loved that old small resort feel that we loved as customers,” Dan said. “And we tried to maintain it as long as we could.”
When the Scholzes bought Beacon Shores there were 10 cabins, original to the resort. Despite their efforts, few resortgoers wanted to stay in dated cabins in need of repairs.
“We couldn’t fill the 10 cabins because they were older cabins, and then we couldn’t afford the property,” Dan Scholz said. “We had to make a difficult decision. I would have rather kept the whole property. I really would’ve, especially the old cabins. But it wasn’t what the consumers wanted today."
When the Scholzes bought Beacon Shores Resort, the goal was to retire there. As they drew closer to retirement age, that meant no longer doing scheduled resort activities or managing a resort store. But for resort owners, it can be difficult to have an exit strategy.
If (people) want to continue to have family-owned resorts, they need to support them. Family resorts are in a sort of turmoil (or) transition.
“How do you get out? It’s kind of like owning a farm,” Dan Scholz said. “It’s worth so much, (but) nobody other than a farmer or somebody who’s going to tear it all down and build houses is going to buy it.”
To keep the resort they loved, both as customers and now owners, the Scholzes had to downsize.
“It was either tear down and build newer, which is what so many (resorts) are doing, or go to something like we did and downsize, and then start enjoying it more,” Dan Scholz said. “Because we don’t want this to end. We don’t want it to go away.”
It’s not just Beacon Shores that Dan Scholz is worried about preserving.
“If (people) want to continue to have family-owned resorts, they need to support them. Family resorts are in a sort of turmoil (or) transition,” he said. “If you want to continue to have this, you got to do this once and a while. If you do it once every 10 years, that may not be enough for them. Support us, and then we will do everything we can to support you and make it great.”
Megan Buffington, Echo Journal reporter, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is a 2021 Pequot Lakes High School graduate who attends the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.