Greg Bowen and his wife, Angela Dotty, never planned on owning a resort. It just sort of happened.
About 10 years ago, they had a construction business in Arizona where they built retirement communities. When one of their lenders acquired a foreclosed resort near Alexandria, Bowen was asked to come up here to fix it up so it could be sold.
"We bought it instead," he said, "and here we are."
Now they can't imagine doing anything else.
The property they purchased, which is now Brophy Lake Resort, sits on the west side of the lake and includes 13 cabins, a four-bedroom house and several RV sites. In addition to the wooded lakeshore, the resort also has a river that divides the property and flows from Lake Mina into Lake Brophy.
Over the years, Bowen and Dotty and their family have grown attached to the beautiful location and the resort lifestyle. However at first they were a little surprised by how much work it involved.
"It's an ongoing process," he said. "It's a lot of work."
Generation after generation
For Dick and Linda Wagner, owners of Shady Creek Resort on lakes Aaron and Moses, the resort life has lasted for the past 42 years.
"We're into the fourth generation," he said, speaking of his guests, who often return year after year with their families.
The Wagners grew up in this area but they also lived in the Twin Cities for several years. After moving back here and purchasing the resort, Dick ran a plumbing business, which continues to this day.
Although he is now considering spending less time with the plumbing business in order to devote more time to the resort, he said they never would have been able to hang on to it in the beginning without a secondary income.
"We put in a lot of hours between the resort and the plumbing in our younger years," he said.
Shady Creek Resort is located mainly along the shore of Lake Aaron near Millerville, although it also includes some lakeshore and a dock across a small country road on Lake Moses. A creek runs through the property to connect the two lakes. The resort includes four cabins, a double bungalow and two RV sites.
Both Shady Creek and Brophy Lake resorts have boats, canoes, kayaks, water slides, water toys, volleyball courts and playground areas for guests to enjoy. Pontoons are also available to rent at both resorts.
Both sets of owners agreed that when you run a resort, there is always something to repair or replace around the grounds.
"You have to keep adding things," Linda Wagner added. "They (guests) look for something new every year."
Her husband also noted that being somewhat of a handyman is essential because it would be too expensive to hire someone for all the repairs, maintenance and upgrades.
Like many resorts, Shady Creek Resort is only open during the summer months, from the fishing opener until about the third week of September. In contrast, Brophy Lake Resort is open year-round, but with only four cabins and the house available in winter. The remaining nine cabins are rented to students at Alexandria Technical and Community College in winter.
Living for summer
The three months of summer are the make-or-break months for resorts, Bowen said. "For those three months, we don't take much of a breath," he said.
Yet, even if those summer months are very busy, some owners still find the time to enjoy a little free time at their resorts. For the Wagners, that might mean getting out kayaking with guests who have also become their friends over the years.
Linda Wagner explained that having technology such as cell phones gives them some freedom and allows them to be easily reached by customers wherever they happen to be, on the grounds or on the water.
The Internet has been, like it is for many businesses, a bit of a mixed blessing. It has made it easier for potential customers to see the resort before they book, she said.
However, Bowen pointed out that being online has also meant customers can readily see all of the other resort options available. This has made it less likely that people will return to the same place every year.
In addition, lives are becoming busier with less free time, and fewer people are doing week-long stays, Bowen said. Three- and four-day stays are now becoming more popular.
"Ultimately, with the shorters stays, we see more people," he said.
Nevertheless, many of the same people do return to the resorts each year.
"A lot of them have been coming for 40 years," Dick Wagner said.
Can't be beat
Despite the hard work to make a resort go, the owners of both resorts said they have really enjoyed the resort life.
They all emphasized that the resort provides a great place to raise children - a place where kids can learn to work hard, build relationships with guests and return to after they have left home. In addition, they said that it's rewarding to help provide vacations and build memories that are very important to their guests.
Those are experiences that are getting increasingly hard to find, as the number of resorts shrinks, both in Douglas County and statewide. These are challenging times for resort owners, but the owners of Brophy Lake Resort and Shady Creek Resort seem to be both attached to the resort lifestyle and committed to providing a place for guests to keep returning, year after year.
"We've talked about selling the resort, but what would we do?" Angela Dotty said.
From his resort 17 miles away, Dick Wagner appeared to echo her words.
"Where would we go?" he said.