Vermilion resorts prep for a COVID-19 opener

Fishing boats dot the surface of Lake Vermilion near Tower for the start of the 2019 fishing season last May.

LAKE VERMILION — With the 2020 Minnesota Walleye Fishing Opener set for this weekend, anglers and their families are planning on hitting the lake for some fishing, relaxation and maybe some escapism in the era of COVID-19.

Resorts across the area are feeling the effects of the coronavirus and are doing their best to make adjustments to better suit their guests and attract more guests in a time where many would like a vacation.

Ron Johnson, owner of Whispering Winds Resort in Cook says guests staying at his resort may have to bring a few of their own items from home, but that resort staff is looking to provide the best experience possible during their stay.

We are asking our guests to bring their own blankets and pillows and towels. We’ll furnish the sheets and strip down the beds and sanitize the waterproof liners.”

Some changes include canceling potential group activities, says Johnson.

“We have to still be responsible and do the social distancing. So we won’t be having a group fish fry any time soon. I don’t think anyone is going to be interested in using the beach right now but try to be safe and smart if you do.”

Mary Hanson, co-owner of Pehrson Lodge Resort in Cook says COVID-19 has changed large amounts of policy and procedure when it comes to keeping guests safe and healthy.

“Normally when people check in, there’s a lot to do when it comes to reviewing their reservation, making payments, making plans to pick up boats, things like that,” Hanson said. “Now, we’re trying to do all that a week early before they arrive so they can get here and just go right to their cabin. We’re trying to develop a system or some kind of form people can fill out electronically where you can request any services or something to be delivered without having to go to the lodge. Things like firewood, grocery items or bait are things people would come to the lodge to get. Now, people can order ahead and we’ll deliver it to their cabin without contact.”

Another change for Hanson and the staff at Pehrson is finding something for the younger children to do during their stay, as well as trying to make sure guests help keep others in the community safe.

“We have a great children’s program here but we can’t do anything like that now with the measures that we need to take. We’re taking it seriously and we’re trying to think about our community as well.”

One such way is organizing curbside pickup for guests from Zup’s Foods in Cook, as well as encouraging those going into town to wear face coverings.

“We’re encouraging people to be safe and smart. If they don’t have a face covering, we can provide one for them. We’re trying to help our community so if they go to our local businesses, everyone is being as safe as possible.”

Mark Ludlow, owner of Ludlow’s Island on Lake Vermilion, says one of the big changes made at their resort is the addition of nearly 20 sanitation stations around the resort.

“We’re trying to place them strategically near the water toys and our beach lounge area,” Ludlow said. “We clean them all ourselves between uses but people will have the option to clean them themselves if they want to put themselves at ease. We’re taking other steps inside our lodge. We want to limit the number of people in one place at one time. Our front desk will have ultraviolet lights turned on so anything that passes from a worker to a guest goes under that light to help kill the virus.”

Ludlow also says the resort convenience store will, at least once a day, go under an ozone generator to help purify the air. In addition, all resort staff will greet guests with masks and gloves equipped.

“We handle all of the luggage for our guests so we think it’s important that we’re being safe when we interact with their luggage. Since we’re on an island, all guests come over on a shuttle boat and we clean that after every trip as well. Our guests have full access to the island and the public isn’t allowed on it so it’s very private and you’d never have to pass within six feet of someone if you chose not to.”

When it comes to crunching numbers, all three owners say that guests that come in large groups or guests that travel large distances are the ones that are most likely to cancel reservations.

“Most of the cancellations are coming from fishing groups with 10, 15, 20 guys all coming together and renting one big cabin or a couple of smaller cabins,” said Johnson. “The groups of people that are from multiple different families or from many different places are the ones that are canceling their reservations.”

Hanson echoed what Johnson said, adding that it’s affecting groups consisting of multiple generations.

“The older populations are at a greater risk so those people are maybe reconsidering right now,” Hanson said. “Multiple families like to vacation together at once and I think that’s happening less this year and a lot of nuclear families are feeling more comfortable to come since they’re just moving from their house to their cabin. Hopefully the larger groups will come later this year or even next year when it’s safer.”

Ludlow says that his resort is also feeling the loss from businesses who like to schedule spring and fall conferences on their island.

“The hit to our social and vacation business has not been as severe but there has been some cancellations,” Ludlow said. “Many of our out-of-state guests fly to get here and now flying doesn’t look like a great option for some people.

“Some people are rescheduling or trying to delay their vacation but some also like to hold on to their reservation until the last minute. That leaves a big question mark for us because it’s hard to fill the hole they left if they decide to cancel so close to their stay. But we just have to live with it.”

Hanson says those considering travel to other countries are instead changing their plans and opting to stay home.

“We’ve had several reservations for people who were planning to go to Canada but want to come here instead. It’ll be a quiet opener for our business because most of our cabins are for large groups and now we’ve lost those reservations.”

Many businesses agree, however, that now is a good time for those living in the area to consider a vacation on Lake Vermilion.

“I think it’s a good time to check us out,” Ludlow said. “The driving time of six hours or less is certainly a market for us. I believe that people would really like to take a vacation and get out of town but also be in an environment that they trust and I think it’s important we make them feel comfortable.”

Johnson says the fishing is shaping up to be strong this season and encourages people to consider a vacation on Vermilion.

“People can come up and catch fish. Walleye hasn’t started yet but fish are certainly being caught right now and we’re going to do our best to accommodate those who come our way. We want to promote the area but also be safe.”

For Hanson, the lower level of occupancy at Pehrson may be tough to deal with in the moment, but it’s much better than the alternative.

“It’s certainly not easy, but we’re doing our best. It would be worse if we weren’t allowed to even be open. The overhead would be quite painful so we’re glad we can still be open and do what we can for our guests while keeping them and our staff and the community safe. We’ll keep trying to fill in the gaps on the business we’re losing. It seems like the phones have been pretty busy lately making new reservations.”


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