From California to Round Lake: Life and times of owning a resort

The lakeshores of Minnesota were once dotted with over 4,000 resorts, but today, 25 years later, we're down to a mere 800. This is the story of how a California family made the long strange trip to be the proud owners of the popular Tamarac Resor...

The lakeshores of Minnesota were once dotted with over 4,000 resorts, but today, 25 years later, we're down to a mere 800.

This is the story of how a California family made the long strange trip to be the proud owners of the popular Tamarac Resort & Campground on Round Lake.

Randy & Sheila Blanford and their children Ryan, Justin and Sarah grew up in the warm weather of Southern California, boating in the blue Pacific waters and camping in the high desert.

But after Sheila got hurt at work and Randy's company was going through a second round of layoffs, they decided it was time to pursue their dreams of owning a campground.

Toying with the idea, they had looked off and on for years, but now decided to chase that dream with more dedication.


So each morning, before the kids headed for school, they would sit Sheila down at the computer, turn it on for her and show her where to type her inquiries.

"That's all I did, all day long was search for campgrounds for sale."

Several were looked at in the Oregon area, where Randy initially wanted to re-locate, but the cost of these resorts was a bit steep, so they expanded their search to other parts of the country.

The Tamarac Resort & Campground listing boasted of hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, campgrounds, cabins and a restaurant/bar.

"The more I looked at it, the better it sounded," said Sheila. "The only problem was I had no idea where Minnesota was actually located! Of course, Randy looked at me and said "Are you nuts? It is so cold there! You have no idea!" So Tamarac as a destination was shelved for a couple of days, and each morning Sheila would do her search on the now familiar computer.

Still, the idea of resorts in Minnesota stayed with them and further research showed that it was one of the top five places in the nation to raise children, and had high education and excellent quality of life ratings.

So in March of 2000 Sheila and Randy took a road trip to look at five or six resorts for sale from Alexandria to Bemidji. When they came up Becker County Road 35 into the pine trees and lakes country, Sheila knew, "This is where I want to be."

Back home in sunny Southern California, the idea of Minnesota winters still plagued them. So they copied a whole years worth of weather charts and taped them up on the living room wall.


"Every day we would look at our chart and try to imagine what 20-below would feel like in January. We were really surprised that in February it was still 20-below some days!"

They had no concept of how bitterly cold it could be, so they decided to take a chance.

"There were so many things that had to fall into place for this to go," said Sheila. "We chose to sell our own home, which was a big worry, Randy's layoff had to happen so we could leave with full health benefits, the kids had to buy into the idea, all for a not-too-sure future."

But like all good things that are meant to be, the obstacles were overcome one by one and the Blanford family was in Minnesota by June; the proud owners of Tamarac Resort & Campground.

"The first summer was a blur," said Sheila, "Cooking, cleaning, cooking cleaning, I had no idea who I even talked to. But owning a resort is a lifestyle that we like. We didn't come here to get rich, and we knew the first year would be the toughest."

With 48 campsites and five cabins that are full nearly all summer long, it takes a family effort just to keep everything on track.

Sarah and Sheila do the cleaning, and Randy and Justin do the needed maintenance. Randy is called "Mr. McGyver" for his ability to fix anything with the tools at hand. Justin is learning at his father's shoulder, but is finding more of what he doesn't want to be ... a bricklayer and an electrician head the list for now.

Ryan has left the family nest to pursue his own destiny in Detroit Lakes, but is often drawn home to the peaceful shores of Round Lake.


Running a resort means taking care of customers, but it also means taking care of the environment around the resort. The Blanfords are adamant about protecting their lake.

"We have very good stewards on our lake, homeowners that are passionate about making sure Round Lake is protected from harm. One of the things we liked about this resort is the lack of potential for building. Three sides are surrounded by the (Tamarac) National Wildlife Refuge, which means that the lake will stay in natural shape, and not be over-developed," explained Sheila.

Keeping on top of legislative changes that affect Minnesota resorts was also a new challenge, but a group called the Congress of Minnesota Resorts has helped Randy and Sheila sort through the laws, as well as provide a support group for the mundane issues that plague each resort; how to deal with unruly guests or the occasional mouse.

"I've always been the person in rose-colored glasses, " laughs Sheila, "I've never been interested in politics, that's Randy's bag. This is the first time I've ever stepped up."

This last fall the Congress of Resorters, including Sheila, spent two days in Minneapolis hearing 70 different topics relating to resort legislation. To make sure the lawmakers were aware of their presence, each resort owner wore a big orange life vest. Resorts bring in millions of dollars of revenue into Minnesota each year and they wanted to make sure they were noticed.

The resort lifestyle calms down a bit in the winter, but with winterized cabins, the hunters, ice-fishermen, snowmobilers and repairs still keep the Blanford family busy. They have settled into their environment and find the lifestyle of resort owning exactly what they dreamed it would be. The obstacles of owning a new business and moving to a foreign climate have been met with enthusiasm. The Tamarac Resort & Campground will continue to thrive as Justin has decided to go to business school so that he can eventually take over.

"Our plan was to stay here for 18 years until we retire, have Justin take over the business and send us a large monthly check!" said Sheila. "It's been six years so we're one third of the way there, and have no intentions of leaving. This place is an untouched jewel, we feel very fortunate to have achieved our dream."

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