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Whalan seizes an opportunity

Thu, Jan 26th, 2012
Posted in All Progress Edition

Dubbed the "New Minnesota Resort," Cedar Valley Resort in Whalan is a prime example of the growth that can be found in small towns. This May, the resort will celebrate the 10th anniversary of their official opening. To say that much has changed since their inaugural year, when they were part of only a handful of resorts in southeastern Minnesota, would be an understatement of epic proportions.

Owner and operator Larry Johnson always dreamed of creating a resort for families. However, the original concept didn't quite include the sprawling premises that Cedar Valley offers today. It also didn't specifically include the location, which has lent itself perfectly to Johnson's initial vision.

Nestled along the Root River and situated next to the Root River State Trail, the site was previously home to Cedar Valley Fur Farm, a mink ranch begun by Johnson's father, Gene. "Ranching was always my father's business. I spent 22 years working with him, but this was my dream," says Johnson. When the ranch closed in 1999, Johnson and his wife, Sheryl, took a chance.

Beginning with a mobile home on the property that Johnson had lived in for 14 years, they thought their initial "season" with their test plot would be 30 weekends. It ended up being over 100.

Early on, guests' requests for more lodging, both in quantity and size, fueled the rapid growth. The Johnsons didn't want the same situation as the Bed & Breakfasts in the area. Instead, knowing their market early on, they aimed for not just couples, but larger groups and families. Johnson acknowledged, though, that they were slightly unclear of what direction it would all go. Full-scale resorts like theirs were considered uncharted territory in the county.

In May of 2001, they built and opened three new cabins at the resort; the Wolf, Moose, and Whitetail. Made in rustic, log-sided fashion with cozy interiors, the first cabins were capable of housing between 11 and 18 guests. Decked out in natural charm, they featured Amish-made, knotty oak cabinetry, expansive porches, and scenic views. Of course, for those less than rugged guests, they also included all the modern amenities.

By 2002 it was clear the resort was on the right track and two more 18-person, 4-bedroom, 2-bath cabins were constructed and opened: The Bear and the Eagle Cabins. One year later, the Johnsons added the Loon Cabin, an expansive 6-bedroom, 4-bath charmer that can accommodate 22 guests.

Clientele initially came from the Twin Cities area and portions of Iowa, but that, too, has grown to have a major Iowa market, as well as guests from across the country. "Siblings... friends," says Johnson, "These people see each other maybe once a year. There's usually a local tie, a person that draws them all here."

In 2005, the resort added the Northwoods Retreat Cabin. The 4,700 square-foot facility was the largest to date and featured 8 bedrooms, 6 baths, a private 1.5 acre lawn, and two complete kitchens and great rooms so the entire cabin could be divided if need be.

In 2009, a second massive facility, the 5,300 square-foot Big Timber Retreat was constructed and opened. It mimicked the Northwoods with added space and a panorama-offering a 50-foot long covered porch and a patio on the walkout level.

The amenities and activities have increased just as the cabins have. Noting the viability of Whalan and the ability for the entire community to draw and host a large movement of people, Johnson said, "When you're a destination, you have to have things available for your guests."

The resort offers bike, canoe, kayak, and tube rental. In addition, the resort boasts a 9-hole Frisbee golf course, a sand volleyball court, a 40' x 50' basketball court, two large playgrounds, bocce ball, and green space for kids of all ages. There is a bike shuttles to Fountain, Preston, Harmony, Houston, or Rushford for those taking in the 30 miles of groomed state trail in either direction from the resort.

For those guests wishing to simply stay put and relax, Cedar Valley offers a retail area which includes charcoal, firewood, a light line of groceries and a variety of local goods. They've also brokered an agreement with Sue Betts, owner of Prana Healing Center for therapeutic massage to be offered in the comfort of the private cabins.

Even the winter months offer play time with both cross-country ski rental and free Sno-tube rental for guests.

This growth doesn't come as a complete surprise to Johnson. People are searching for a nostalgic experience with closeness of community and a relaxed, comfortable atmosphere. Johnson agrees, "There's been a shift in realizing that small towns have a lot to offer."

For more information on Cedar Valley Resort, call 507-467-9000 or email staff at cvresort@acegroup.cc. The peak season is June 17th through August 20th. "Shoulder" season includes weekends Memorial Day through June 16th, August 21st through Labor Day, and weekends May through October. Off Season rates are available 7 days a week, November through April, and Sunday through Thursday in May, September, and October.

A website is available for those wishing to preview the premises or inquire about nearby sites and activities such as the famous Aroma Pie Shop, Gator Greens Mini Golf, Bluff Country Jeep Tours, and Sveen Wagon and Sleigh Rides. Check out www.cedarvalleyresort.com

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