On July 20th we celebrated the one year anniversary of buying Bearskin Lodge. We actually did have a little party in honor of the day. Crystal made delicious soup and a cake for the occasion and the entire staff (except poor Kate, stuck at the front desk) set aside their chores for a short while to briefly celebrate. And then, because it was a hectic Saturday with many cabin “turnovers,” the moment was quickly over and everyone returned to the hustle and bustle that pervades Bearskin Lodge on a summer Saturday. Typical of our first year at Bearskin, we were far too busy to contemplate the amazing fact that we had somehow survived a year.
I began writing Bearskin Blog around this time last September by attempting to answer the questions that everyone consistently, repeatedly asked us at first. (“The big questions” http://bearskin.wordpress.com/2007/09/) Now, a year later, the standard questions differ but the consistency with which people ask similar questions remains. “How is it going?” people ask now. “Do you like it? What has been the most difficult?”
The answers to those questions, of course, depend on what disaster befell us just before the question was asked. But in the big picture, we’d have to answer that it is going very well. Our summer reservations were way up; we had the best August in the records since 2003. Fall looks very strong. Given the state of the economy and the high gas prices, we wouldn’t have been surprised at a downturn in bookings. It certainly could still happen, but the Bearskin experience is so unique that people continue to make the commitment to come here.
Our days of working at the resort are hard, but fun. We are surrounded by a happy bunch of people, both guests and employees. We are blessed to be living in a beautiful environment. We miss some aspects of life back in Plymouth, but the trade-off is worthwhile.
What has been the most difficult? That’s a no-brainer. Losing Dee, the heart, soul and brains of Bearskin. There were dozens of procedures and policies at Bearskin that only resided in Dee’s head. We make them up again as we go, mostly on a “WWDD?” basis. From time to time a guest will intone, “Oh no, that’s not how Dee used to do it,” and we’ll realize they know more about it than we do.
And while losing such a valuable staff member was difficult, the gradual process of finding a new group of enthusiastic, energetic Bearskin employees has been a joy. Dave Tuttle once told us that staffing was the toughest part of running Bearskin; it didn’t take us long to learn how true that was. Running Bearskin last winter with too few people was a grueling experience that none of us want to repeat. But bit by bit we are putting together a team that could make the next year at Bearskin even more successful.
Andy McDonnell, perhaps best known for his backwards moose escape (http://bearskin.wordpress.com/2007/10/28/moose-vs-andy-mcdonnell/), has embraced the challenge of mastering the management of our front desk and reservations. That we somehow survived the transition from Dee without any booking disasters is a testimony to how hyper-careful Andy became as he grew into his job.
The arrival last March of Crystal “I love to clean” Clemons was a new beginning at Bearskin. Guests have been commenting ever since on the meticulous cleanliness of the Bearskin cabins. Plus, having an employee who owns a gorilla suit and is not afraid to use it provides us with lots of good stories. She takes great moose pictures, too. (http://bearskin.wordpress.com/2008/06/08/obsession-pays-best-moose-picture-ever/)
And of course, the opportunity to work with our son Quinn is a family-bonding experience many parents would envy. He’s been very patient with the persistent, annoying presence of his parents in his daily work life. Quinn has mastered many new skills and seems extremely well-suited to this environment.
Laura, from Florida (sister to former long-time employee Adde), and Megan, from Louisiana, have recently joined our staff. It’s been fun to see them acclimate to our, um, “cold” weather. Pssst, hide all those shockingly cold thermometer pictures people took last winter, OK? JoAnn, a retired Cook County art teacher, is putting in a few hours at front desk each week; we hope to hire a few more part-time employees for winter. Staffing has gone from being a struggle to one of the more positive aspects of the future at Bearskin.
Looking back on the year, it’s been an extraordinary learning experience. We survived Bearskin and even better, Bearskin has survived us. Ask us again next year after our 2nd anniversary.