We are starting to get calls and emails about COVID-19 and how it will affect our season. So I thought I’d post an update on what is going on with Birch Forest Lodge and our family and specifically how COVID-19 has impacted us.
First, as many of you know, we spent the last few months in Belize where we worked at our new project/resort (Cotton Tree Lodge). We enjoyed the warm weather and sunshine, went snorkeling, ate fresh fruit every day, explored caves, visited Mayan ruins and of course we went fishing.
We had anticipated staying til late April and not coming back to Minnesota until the snow melted and the ice was about to come off the lake. But then COVID-19 happened. In mid February things started to get dicey as international travel started to slow down and groups started emailing asking us about our cancellation policy-never a good sign. By late February people started to cancel their trips for March. In early March serious travel advisories were posted and soon borders started to close. By this time we were getting a cancellation email everyday. And by the 10th of March every group had cancelled their trip and we had taken over 100 thousand dollars in cancellations. Very painful, especially for our first year of business.
Kasey and I talked it over and since there were no cases of coronavirus in Belize we decided to stick it out and work on some projects. Then on Friday March 20 we received a text from a friend in Belize to check the news. Belize had decided to close its (only) international airport. The Belizean government put out an official notice suggesting all foreigners leave the country as services would be significantly reduced. The US embassy suggested that all Americans return to the US right away as medical services for Americans would not be offered in Belize and it is unknown how long the airport would be closed for. So Kasey and I drove over to the kids school, picked them up, drove home, bought a plane ticket for the next day and told the kids to pack their suitcases. The next night we were in Atlanta.
We were sad to leave Belize, particularly in the manner we left. But we are very happy to be home. Belize was great. But it wasn’t home. We are confident we will be returning in November. Now our attention is fully on Birch Forest Lodge. Minnesota will be under a stay at home/shelter in place law tonight. Fortunately for us, that means we are confined to our resort. Basically, life is pretty much normal for us. We have started to line up some small projects to work on for when the snow melts. Oh yeah, we still have snow. Lots of it.
So what about this summer? Like most of you we are keeping a close watch to the news. And we are trying to figure out what is real and what is hype. People have asked us if we are going to change our cleaning process. We already deep clean every cabin between groups. So what will change? To be honest, we aren’t sure at this point. This partly depends on where we are in 2 months. That is right, we have 2 months til we are fully open. A lot can change in 2 months. There is a chance the virus will have spread more and more lockdowns are in place. The government might not allow anyone to travel. In that case, Birch Forest won’t be open this summer and Brock and I will spend most of our days fishing. There is a chance that things will be pretty much normal by then. Much of Asia is already re-opening and people are trying to return to normal. In that case, we’ll all sit around and tell our worst stories from this pandemic. The most likely thing I see at this point is things have improved, but we have to be careful. This is mostly what Kasey and I talk about when we discuss options for this summer. The Minnesota Resort Association has some suggestions for resort owners to be able to operate this summer. All of these are hypothetical, and just ideas to make sure we stay open this summer. Here is what we think we think at this point…
- We may have to change/enact some rules for the main lodge on how many people can be in the lodge at any given time.
- We will likely have to deep clean the lodge regularly throughout the day.
- Our game room may have to be closed this year
- We may not be able to host our Monday night barbecue
- We will have to disinfect the steering consoles and dash boards of the rental boats between groups
- We may have to close the fish cleaning house and have a couple of outdoor tables set up for cleaning fish and ask people to practice more catch and release this summer. I know this one might upset some people, but if I have to choose between being open and operational with (extreme)restrictions to keep people safe or being closed due to health code issues, we will risk upsetting some people.
- We might not be able to have open campfires and go to a sign up for campfire areas to keep numbers of people down around the campfire.
These are just some of the ideas that are being talked about. Like most of you, we really really really hope things are basically normal by Memorial Day. But if not, we are working on contingencies because we know how many people enjoy their time here. And we truly cherish the time you spend with us. Our family will be joining with our worldwide church membership this weekend in a special fasting and prayer event to ask for relief from this pandemic. At this point, this is the only thing I can do. Here’s to hoping to seeing all of you this summer!