Where to start? The calendar may say it is only mid June but it sure seems like the summer has been going for a while. At least if you measure by the phone ringing. Our fishing opener was really quiet. Two cabins for the weekend quiet. By late May we were up to 4 cabins for the weekend. The week of Memorial day came and we were open to half capacity. The following week we had 9 cancellations. By that point we were scared to death we were headed for bankruptcy. Every day someone was calling and cancelling their vacation. Now we have the opposite problem. Everyone has figured out that a trip up here is probably the safest thing you can do. I’ve said “sorry we don’t have any vacancy” more times in the last 10 days than I normally do in a summer. And don’t get me wrong, I much prefer saying that to discussing our no refund policy on deposits!
So I think I should give everyone an update on how Covid 19 is doing up here. We are part of Saint Louis County. Our county runs from Duluth all the way to Crane Lake. We are the largest county in all of Minnesota. As of yesterday there have been 127 cases in the county. Almost all of them were in Duluth. Sadly, two large long term care facilities in Duluth experienced significant outbreaks with Covid 19 a couple of months ago and dozens of people were infected. Since the outbreak started, 25 people have required hospitalization in St. Louis County, all of them in Duluth. And even sadder is 14 people died. Again all in Duluth, and for those wondering, all of them were in long term care centers. While all deaths are sad, we are grateful there has not been even one person from the general public who has died in our county. There was a case in Hibbing, but there hasn’t been a case in Virginia. At the moment there are zero people hospitalized with Covid 19 in our county. There are 7 active cases where people are quarantined and recovering at home in our county.
Most of Minnesota has seen significant drops in cases, total hospitalizations and ICU beds for Covid 19 for 3 weeks now. Like many of you, we are very grateful to see the numbers going down. We may not be out of the woods yet, but we do feel like God is aware of us and our prayers are being heard. In mid-May the State of Minnesota allowed some businesses (like ours) to reopen. Around June 1 other businesses were allowed to reopen and last week most restaurants, bars and such were allowed to reopen. Each phase of reopening has brought new rules for all of us. Currently we are in phase three of the reopening process, here are the basics…
- Bars and restaurants can operate at 50% capacity.
- Reservations are required. (Here in Orr if you don’t have a reservation and there is room they will take a reservation for you on the spot!)
- Tables in restaurants have to be 6 feet apart.
- If an operation is not comfortable reopening they are not required to do so.
- Arcades, bowling alleys, movie theaters and such can open to 25% capacity
How does this affect Birch Forest Lodge? We have opened our game room back up. We wipe and sanitize the ping pong table, the air hockey, foosball, pinball and other games daily and provide disinfecting wipes for those who want to use them. Our kayaks, stand up paddle boards and such are back on the beach. We never took away the playground. Basically we decided that anyone and everyone should know by now there is a virus and some risk to being outside. We are doing what we can to keep things clean and safe. But at the end of the day, it is your responsibility as a human being to take care of you. If you don’t feel comfortable with your kids playing ping pong in the lodge, tell them they can’t go in there. Same for the playground or the kayaks. Please use your head and talk to your family about your rules. We have had some kids come up and their families told them not to play with other kids. We understand. Our own kids have been told to check with us if the other kids are allowed to play before inviting other kids to play with them.
For a couple of months we’ve been telling people we are the solution to the frustration you are feeling as you are stuck at home. There is no better form of social distancing than a remote cabin on a lake. Lots of fresh air and sunshine. In fact the more I read about this virus and how it spreads the more I’m convinced fresh air and sunshine are the answer. About 2 weeks ago it seems that most of the population decided a cabin in the woods was the best summer vacation option this year. For 2 weeks now our phone has been ringing off the hook. We are still taking cancellations (5 this week and a total of 33 for the summer) but we are now taking far more reservations than cancellations. We ended up sold out last week, were sold out this week, next week is sold out and the following week has 2 nights open. In July we have a total of 16 nights open between all 12 cabins. We have fielded several calls today about the opening in Cabin 10 and the one in The Retreat in July. My guess is they will be filled soon. After all those worries of no one showing up this summer we now feel confident that won’t be a problem. We are very grateful to everyone who has come and to those who are planning to visit us this summer!
We are still asking everyone to bring their own bedding this year. The CDC and the State of Minnesota is asking lodging properties to change out the blankets and pillows between each guest and along with cleaning them, have them sit for 72 hours. We can’t handle that, we simply don’t have that many spare pillows or blankets. We are supplying a fitted sheet for all the beds. We still aren’t doing our Monday night cookout because we can’t facilitate the 6 feet between tables rule. But most things are pretty normal.
One of the things we have noticed this summer is how happy people are to be here and how many people have thanked us for working to get open. We appreciate the gratitude and we too are excited to see each of you. We are very grateful to everyone who supports us in anyway. Kasey and I have both been tipped more this summer than previous summers. Our assumption is people are a little more grateful to be outside and doing something “normal”. We thank you for this. We know there are those who can’t make it this year but are still praying for us. We thank you. We’ve noticed people are a little stressed when they arrive and we love seeing them relax during their stay as they let go of their worries and spend time with those they care about. We hope and pray that this summer continues to see improvements with Covid 19 and more people are able to get outside and relax.