Vintage Michigan U.P. resort will go up for auction this summer
COPPER HARBOR, MI – Tucked inside the wild beauty of the Upper Peninsula, there’s a genteel resort on the Keweenaw Peninsula that has been drawing crowds for nearly 85 years.
With its rustic-looking main building in a wooded setting, the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge looks a bit like the vintage resort featured in the movie “Dirty Dancing.”
But the Great Depression-era spot where people used to come for tranquility, rounds of golf and a great view has shifted with the times. You can still play nine holes while taking in the beauty of Brockway Mountain. But you can also book the resort’s conference center for your next retreat, then take advantage of the mountain-biking trails that crisscross the forests and old logging roads not far from your cabin door.
This summer, the lodge will be looking for a new owner. An auction is set for July 26 on the grounds. It will be preceded by two open houses so prospective buyers can get a good look around. One is set for July 2, the other for July 25.
The property includes the main lodge with its curved bar, stone fireplaces, two-story dining rooms and a 6,000 square-foot banquet hall. It also features a disc golf course and tennis courts. Its trails can be used for mountain biking, hiking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
The resort has been owned by Keweenaw County since it opened to guests in 1934. But the county decided last year it wanted to get out of the hospitality business. It put the 167-acre lodge property up for sale for $1.5 million. Two buyers backed out in quick succession.
Harvey Desnick, hired last year to run the lodge for the county, said the resort is ripe for the right kind of owner – someone who embraces the Up North culture and perhaps even sees the potential to expand the operation to include winter guests.
“You have to like the lifestyle,” he said. “We get a lot of snow, so you’ve got to be a winter creature, especially if you want to run it on a four-season basis.”
Steeped in History
The property itself is deeply tied to local history, which explains why so many in the Copper Country have an emotional connection to it. Plans for the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge were laid in the harsh years following the Depression. In 1932, the mining companies that largely sustained that part of the U.P. suspended their operations, putting at least 1,000 people out of work, according to the county’s history of the property. The area’s unemployment rate hovered around 75 percent.
With federal money coming in to combat the jobless issue, the county’s road commission drew up plans to put people back to work. They built Brockway Mountain Drive, and in 1933 started construction on the lodge and its golf course on land donated by the Keweenaw Copper Company.
“It’s kind of special and it has a unique history,” Desnick said. The lodge shares a basic design with several resorts built around the country at about that same time, right down to the picturesque low, stone wall that borders the property along U.S. 41.
The interior has some period touches that remain eye-catching today. “The fireplaces are nothing short of spectacular,” he said. “People walk in the door and their mouths drop open.”
Now open summer and fall, the resort brings thousands of guests each year. And many are familiar faces. “From where I sit, one of the stunning realities is the return business up there is phenomenal.”
For that reason, Desnick said he wouldn’t be surprised if whomever buys it at auction is someone who has a personal connection to the property. “I’ve been surprised at the emotional connections here.”
A Modern Business
Hired to help streamline the resort financially, Desnick is also happy at the diverse events being hosted at the lodge, in addition to those who come there for vacation.
For example, this year the lodge is kicking off its limited early season with a golf tournament in late May, followed by a high school after-grad party. Fundraisers, conferences and more golf tournaments fill out the schedule.
By June 15, the lodge opens as a full-service resort. The main lodge houses the kitchen and large dining areas that seat a couple hundred people. Its convention/banquet hall has capacity for 280.
One of its parking areas also is a shuttle stop for the Keweenaw Adventure Company, which rents mountain bikes and offers guided tours on the nearby trails.
The lodging options include one-, two-, and three-bedroom options. The larger cabins are a nice draw. “There are very few places you can get a three-bedroom cabin up here,” Desnick said.
The new owners would have to abide by the property’s historic covenants. They protect the exterior and interior of the lodge and cabins, and the golf course in general. There is some wiggle room for new construction, but there are restrictions on height.
“The most important desire of the community, I think, is that someone who buys the lodge continues to run it as a resort,” he said.
There is no minimum bid set for the auction.
For details of the auction and terms of the sale, see the Maas Companies website.