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Family-owned resort near Dent featured in 'Resorts of Minnesota'

Guests enjoy the beach at East Silent Lake Resort. Hiking, biking and pony rides are also available to guests. Photo by: Charly Haley1 / 3
The Leonards own and maintain East Silent Lake Restort. From right to left: Andy, Nick, Margaret and Brian. Photo by: Charly Haley2 / 3
'Resorts of Miinesota' by Neil E. Johnson. Submitted Photo3 / 3

In his book "Resorts of Minnesota," Neil E. Johnson describes East Silent Lake Resort near Dent as "making dreams come true."

This is because, as the book states, one of the Leonard family brothers had wanted to own a resort since he told his teacher so in third grade.

Years later, after Nick Leonard's parents made his dream come true by purchasing East Silent Resort, the entire Leonard family strives to make other families' vacation dreams come true.

East Silent Resort

The resort covers 50 acres on East Silent Lake about eight miles outside of Dent. The Leonards --parents Brian and Margaret, their son Nick, his wife Bridget and their 17-month-old son Louis, and their other son Andy and his fiancé Kristin -- all live at the resort while it's open in the summer. They maintain the property and care for the guests.

East Silent Resort can accommodate about 100 people at once, with 11 cabins and two new vacation homes.

There are activities for people of every age, such as hiking, biking, swimming, a playground, outdoor sports and games, water rides, water-skiing, wakeboarding and pony rides with the resort's three ponies and miniature donkey, Nacho, who has become the resort's mascot.

The Leonards make sure to update the cabins, Nick said, because while they want to provide guests with a rustic feel, they want the space to still be modern and comfortable to live in.

"My mom insists that the cabins are nice enough that she would stay in them," Nick said, describing how Margaret works to decorate the cabins and makes sure they're clean.

The Leonards each have their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to running the place, Nick said. For example, Andy handles a lot of the business, and Nick works on their website and marketing. But they both know how to handle all of the jobs, in case a family member isn't around.

"You have to be capable in all the different areas," Nick said.

East Silent Resort is only a summer gig for the Leonards. Nick and Andy are both professors at University of Minnesota Morris and University of South Dakota, respectively. Brian and Margaret live in Iowa, where they raised their children, and where Brian is a funeral director.

Providing experiences

The Leonards usually get to know their guests well.

"About 95 percent are return guests," Nick said.

These are guests from all over including Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, the Dakotas, Nebraska, Virginia, Colorado, New York and even Spain.

They receive Christmas cards from many of their guests. One woman, Nick said, came to the resort before the rest of her family was scheduled to arrive so she could visit and spend time with Margaret.

Because the Leonards, -- Nick, Andy, Brian, Margaret and daughter Mary Catherine -- had been visiting the Minnesota lakes-area resorts for years before purchasing East Silent, they want to make sure other families have good experiences and memories from the area, like they do.

"We're very passionate about this continuing to be available to families for years to come," Nick said. Resorts are drastically declining in Minnesota, he said, but he thinks they are important to families. Lake homes and boats are often unaffordable to many families, and so resorts provide an alternative where people can still spend time on a lake, Nick said.

East Silent guests Steve and Julie Fuller from Minot, N.D., noticed the Leonards' effort to make the resort comfortable and welcoming. They visited East Silent Resort for the first time last week with their three kids.

"We've been to two other resorts in the area over the years, and this one puts them all to shame," Steve Fuller said.

The cabins are just modern enough, and they're clean, he said.

'Resorts of Minnesota'

The Leonards are very happy to be a part of Neil E. Johnson's "Resorts of Minnesota" book. It's Johnson's first book, and he focused it specifically on the history and stories of family-owned, family-run resorts.

Johnson, who lives in Hibbing with his wife and children, used to work in marketing and consulting in the Twin Cities. As a life change, he decided to write the book, which was released last summer.

"I wanted to encourage families to get back to simpler times," Johnson said, describing the nature, recreation and history that can be found at resorts.

"I love Minnesota, too," Johnson said, as another reason for writing the book. "I love the history of the state, and history in general."

Writing the book involved about 40,000 miles of travel and 300 interviews, Johnson said. He wanted to cover the entire state, from the Iowa border to the northwest corner, he said. The book features photos taken by Mark J. Harlow, Doug Ohman and Scott Pederson.

East Silent Resort is one of 37 independent, family-owned properties featured in "Resorts of Minnesota."

"It's a beautiful property," Johnson said. "The mom just has the place decorated so comfy, cozy. The owners are such great people."

"Resorts of Minnesota" can be purchased at its website, www.resortsofminnesota.com, and at several of the resorts themselves, including East Silent. Johnson's next book, "Resorts of Wisconsin" will be released in July.

For more information on East Silent Lake Resort, visit www.eastsilentresort.com.

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