Resorts of Minnesota: Local author records mystique of vacationland
A week in a cabin at a Minnesota lake - that's what many families think of when they plan a summer vacation.
Neil Johnson, formerly of rural Debs and a Bemidji High School graduate, has put together stories, histories, fun facts and beautiful photos by Scott Pederson, Doug Ohman and Mark Harlow of Walker.
Initially, Johnson's working title was "Resorts of the North Woods," but he discovered as he toured the state that resorters are giving people memorable vacations at locales from the Iowa border, through central Minnesota, to the Arrowhead, Northwest Angle and prairie pothole country. Consequently, he broadened the title to "Resorts of Minnesota: Exploring the Heritage and History of Minnesota's Family Resorts."
"The number one question I always had was, 'Would I take my family there?' I just like what resorts do for families if they're willing to unplug and take that family vacation," Johnson said.
Johnson's family consists of his wife, Lora, and six children: Isaiah, 9, Nathan, 8, Rebecca, 6, Jeremiah, 3, Sarah, 2, and Abigail, 2 months. Organized summer sports for children, valuable as they are, make it difficult for families to carve out resort time together, he said.
"There are 900 resorts in the state," Johnson said. "That's a far cry from right around the early '70s. There were 4,000."
Two Bemidji area resorts featured in the book are Finn'n Feather, owned by the mother-daughter partnership of JoAnn Fallis and Timberly Christiansen, and Pimushe Resort, owned by Ed and Joanne Fussy.
"We wanted to cover the family-run resorts because we thought that's where the stories are," Johnson said.
To put the stories together, Johnson traveled with the photographers. ("White-knuckle ride with Speedy Gonzales," said Harlow.) Johnson visited each featured resort an average of four times to interview guests and owners and research the history of each property. The project was also a whirlwind enterprise - 12 months between taking the first road trip and sending the manuscript to the printer.
On the way, Johnson and his family stored up their own memories together.
"Elbow Lake Lodge (12 miles northeast of Cook) has a special place in my heart because a month before my dad died, we had our last fishing trip there," he said.
And when they visited Long Lake Lodge near Brandon, Minn., they took their guns for Isaiah's first pheasant hunting outing - two shots, two birds.