Today our family has a huge announcement, we just finalized the purchase of a small resort in Belize! We will be moving there in October to operate Cotton Tree Lodge for the winter months. Before I get into trying to convince anyone on why they might want to visit us in Belize, first I’d like to talk about a few items.

  1. Why are we doing this?
  2. What does this mean for Birch Forest Lodge?
  3. Why Belize?
  4. Who is invited?

As many of you know Birch Forest is pretty busy from about Memorial Day to Labor Day. And then in September we are kinda busy on weekends and a cabin or two on weekdays. We are so very grateful for the business we have here and for every customer who chooses to come to Birch Forest Lodge. Overall the resort is doing well. And during June, July and August it even looks good on paper. The problem is expenses don’t stop when October hits. We knew when we purchased the lodge it would be challenging and expensive. And we were correct on both assumptions! To help offset the winter expenses we have tried for 3 years to be open year round for ice fishing, snowmobiling, deer hunt, weekend winter getaways and so forth. It hasn’t worked for us. Three winters ago we sold 21 nights between 2 units and almost covered the cost of heating the buildings and snowplowing the road in. The second winter we sold 11 nights and this past winter 5 nights. We have realized that without a bar/restaurant we will never have a steady/repeat winter business here. And we don’t want to put in a bar or a restaurant here. We have worked to balance budgets and plan for the winter months and the resort has kept going and opened every spring. But our kids prefer to eat dinner everyday in the winter and have clothes to wear. So I have had to work pretty much full time in the winter to support the family. Even after 5 years (can you believe this is our 5th summer already!?), the resort doesn’t generate enough business in 3 months for us to make much of a living. So I’ve been working as a full time substitute teacher at the local school and haven’t enjoyed, actually despised, the way I am treated by students. This past winter I came home from a rough day at school and told Kasey that I would finish my contract, but would not sub again in future winters. So she asked me-“what are we going to do in the winter to pay the bills?”. After a few long talks a couple of key points stood out.

  • We love resorting
  • We love working as a family
  • We tell ourselves we are relatively good at resorting
  • We (mostly me) get really bored in the winter when I’m not working 15 hours a day
  • And it is really-really-really-really cold in Minnesota in the winters

So we came to a conclusion that change was in the air. We talked about moving back to Utah so that we could be closer to family again and find a winter job. We talked about moving somewhere warmer and finding a job. And we talked about the possibility of finding another resort that we could work at in the winter as a family. Kasey and I both liked the idea of another resort much better than finding a job somewhere for 6 months each winter. So we set out find another resort. We looked for options that operate from November through April. The US had several resorts that would work, but they are also open in the summers. And we don’t want to give up our time at Birch Forest Lodge. We don’t want to hire anyone to do our job here. We want to be here at Birch Forest Lodge serving our guests and raising our family-here. At least in the summers. We couldn’t find anything in the US that would fit our seasonality. So we talked about options outside of the US. Belize immediately came into the discussion. We had vacationed there before and loved it. Beautiful country, friendly people, safe environment, stable government, strong tourism, speaks English as an official language, same time zone and did I mention that it is warm there in the winter? Yes, it is warm there in the winter! So we started looking at resorts in Belize in early November. In December I found the resort I wanted to purchase and Kasey traveled there with me in January and confirmed it would work for us. In April we signed a purchase agreement and today we are humbled to be the new stewards at Cotton Tree Lodge in Southern Belize.

We will be moving to Belize in October, and back here to Minnesota in April. We will be here onsite at Birch Forest Lodge all summer. Belize has very little tourism in the summer months due to hurricanes, heat and bugs. Very few people want to go there when they might get heat stroke or be swept away in a hurricane or more likely drenched during monsoon season. The resort in Belize closes just after Easter. The schedule is perfect for us. We can run both resorts. As we talked with some guests about our plans this summer many have expressed worry that this will cause us problems here. We don’t believe that will be the case. There is a caretaker for the Belize property in the summer while we will be here. There will be a caretaker at Birch Forest Lodge in the winter while we are down there. The properties and buildings will be watched over. And we believe this will help to stabilize us in terms of finances. Rather than lose money at Birch Forest Lodge, we will simply shut everything down. No more crazy propane bills. No more furnace maintenance all winter. No more thawing pipes when the temps drop below negative 40. We’ve run the numbers and we believe Birch Forest will be more profitable being closed in the winter than open. And during the winter our family still has to eat, so we will live at a resort that is functioning and the burden of the family will be always on an operating cash flowing resort. Win for all!

So some of you are probably thinking, “Okay I get all that, but why Belize?!?!?!?”. Before I get into Belize, I’d like to share something else about our family. We are a religious family who deeply value our belief in God and try to act on this by serving others. When we find ourselves shut up all winter in our house trying to stay warm we have limited opportunities to serve those around us. One of the things Kasey and I talked about when we first discussed another resort was finding somewhere we could have an increase of humanitarian and missionary opportunities. Please keep this in mind as I talk a little about Belize.

Belize is a small country in Central America located just south of the Yucatan Peninsula, east of Guatemala and lovingly nestled against the Caribbean. Translation-verdant green rain forest, mountains, gorgeous beaches and warm weather in the winter. Belize was an English colony til 1981 and therefore English is the official language. Schools are all taught in English. All road signs are English. Legal documents are in English. Everything is English. We don’t have to learn another language to survive there. Yes, many people also speak Spanish there because of the proximity to Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala. But once again Belize speaks English. In fact Belize, is the only country in Central/South America that has English as an official language. Belize has a stable government. The laws there are based on British common law just like here in the states. Their economy is stable and the Belize dollar is fixed to the US dollar. In fact, US currency is accepted everywhere in Belize-you never worry about exchange rates or finding somewhere to exchange money. An American dollar is worth 2 Belize dollars-always. So why Belize? Because it is a safe, stable, warm, beautiful country with an exactly opposite resort season to us. We strongly feel there are opportunities for our family in Belize.

The resort we purchased is Cotton Tree Lodge in Punta Gorda Belize. You can visit the website-cottontreelodge.com and see what we will be doing this winter. Cotton Tree Lodge is an all inclusive eco jungle lodge. We are located on the slow moving Moho River deep in the Belize jungle. By boat we are 8 miles from the ocean. This unique location will allow us to offer excursions such as snorkeling and fishing on the ocean as well as inland tours via van to places such as Mayan ruin tours, chocolate farms, caves, waterfalls and more. The resort features 10 riverside cabanas and 4 motel style rooms along with a large restaurant, bar and gift shop. One of the coolest things about the resort is the organic farm that is onsite producing much of what is served in the restaurant. If you have ever been interested in traveling to Belize or would simply like to relax in a hammock of a private cabana in the jungle and tour a chocolate farm, let us know. Also, here are some pictures of Cotton Tree Lodge in Belize…

Riverside Cabana in Belize-Cotton Tree Lodge

The cabanas have private decks with most of them facing the Moho River.

The Cabanas are clean, comfortable and beautifully built out of local hardwoods.

River next to Cotton Tree Lodge Belize

This is the Moho River where Cotton Tree Lodge is located. Very slow moving and wonderful to kayak or swim in. Is there fish? Yes. More to come on that later…

This picture is of me and Ady at a Traditional Mayan chocolate farm tour. On this trip we also visited a waterfall where you could swim in the falls, went to a butterfly farm, visited a Mayan ruin site and went on a sunset jungle cruise where we saw toucans and monkeys. Overall Belize is a fantastic vacation destination for anyone! If you are interested in a vacation to Belize, you can contact us at stay@cottontreelodge.com