DENT, Minn. - John Hagaman of Alexandria, Va., has visited East Silent Lake Resort 70 miles southeast of Fargo every summer since 1971. The avid fisherman says the clear, spring-fed lake is one of the main reasons he keeps coming back.
"It's got good walleyes. Good crappies," he said.
Nick Leonard and his family bought the 100-year-old resort in 2006 in order to keep lake access open to Hagaman and families like theirs.
Leonard said the number of resorts operating in Otter Tail County has shrunk from 126 to just 70 in the past 30 years.
"What we've seen in the resort industry, unfortunately, is the land has become too valuable to function as a resort. The cabins are getting platted off and sold to individual families," Leonard said. "We're losing lake access for the average family left and right. We believe in a model that allows for ownership, but also will preserve the timeless tradition of transient use."
In order to keep the resort in business for another 100 years, Leonard said they have adopted a fractional ownership business model that allows families to purchase shares of the resort's vacation homes.
How it works
Their model is similar to existing shared-ownership arrangements in Duluth and at ski resorts in Colorado.
Potential owners, often longtime guests of the resort, are given the opportunity to buy a quarter of a vacation home, giving them 13 weeks at the resort each year.
Leonard said many people refer to it as a timeshare, but it is different because there is true ownership involved.
"We've set it up so that you can own a cabin. You have a deed. It's real ownership," Leonard said.
Owners can also potentially earn revenue. When not in use, the homes are made available for rent to the public.
"We've seen a real trend where more and more, even private vacation homeowners say, 'Hey, we could be making $1,000 or $1,500 if we simply rented out our cabin.' That's true, but not all vacation homeowners want the headache of trying to rent that out, so this actually offers the best of both worlds. They get to own, simultaneously we rent it out for them so they're building equity," Leonard said.
They also do not have many of the potential headaches associated with ownership. Resort staff clean the cabins and maintain the grounds. In most cases, they will also have the guest's boat in the water when they arrive.
"They can walk down to the boat, jump in and start their vacation," Leonard said.
The past and the future
East Silent Lake Resort was established in 1915 by Charles Bublitz, a pastor who discovered the lakeside property on his return trip from a conference in Minneapolis. He envisioned it as a place where he could relax with his family and entertain friends. The property was sold in 1956 to the O'Haver family, who Leonard said ran it as more of a traditional resort. The O'Havers were responsible for the construction of many of the smaller cabins at the resort. They sold in 1971, and there were four other owners before the Leonards bought the property in 2006.
Leonard said they came in with a three-phase development plan in mind. They began by updating the existing cabins and converting the space that was used by the previous owners as their home into a rental unit. They also purchased an adjacent five-acre property where they have since constructed three larger vacation homes.
He said the next phase includes the construction of a new lodge that will be home to a new reception area, indoor swimming pool, meeting rooms and, eventually, a small restaurant. They hope to break ground this fall. He said they also plan to build an additional 15 cabins on the property over the next several years.
Hagaman said he appreciates all of the improvements the Leonards have made to the resort in recent years.
"I think it's probably one of the nicest resorts in the state," he said. "And, they go out of their way to please the guests. They're just great hosts."
Leonard said it really feels like hosting family.
"What we really enjoy about this business is that it often doesn't feel like a business. You develop really personal relationships with your clients," Leonard said. "We really feel like, and we hope our guests feel this way, too, we want them to feel a part of the resort family. That's certainly how we feel about John and Judy," Leonard said.
• Three newly constructed vacation homes, each with three bedrooms and three bathrooms
• 11 smaller one-, two- and three-bedroom cabins
• A lodge and small gift shop
• A sandy beach and dock with boat access
• Boat and pontoon rental and storage
What: East Silent Lake Resort
Where: 30424 410th Street, Dent, Minn.
Phone: (800) 242-6904