Brainerd Lakes area campgrounds steady, optimistic about summer prospects

Campgrounds are holding strong after a rocky start to 2020 and the coming summer months look promising, but the hospitality/tourism industry isn't immune to an endemic worker shortage.

Campgrounds in the Brainerd lakes area -- like Crow Wing Lake Campground south of Brainerd -- are holding steady after a tough beginning to 2020 with the loss of Mmeorial Day Weekend. The intervening months, as well as signs of the future, point to a continuation of that trend with other factors, like an endemic worker shortage, that may complicate matters. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

After an abysmal start to 2020 with the loss of Memorial Day Weekend, Brainerd lakes area campgrounds have been stable and initial signs are pointing up as the region enters summer 2021.

Much like any sector of the tourism/hospitality industry, it’s a matter of feast or famine for campgrounds, who largely depend on the summer season and two or three weekends a year to stay afloat. With last year’s closure of campgrounds for Memorial Day — which, alongside Fourth of July and Labor Day, stands as one of the most important dates on the calendar— places like Fritz’s Resort, Crow Wing Lake Campground, and Sullivan’s Resort were left reeling.

It’s been a bit more stable since then. Local campgrounds have been able to take advantage of the COVID-19’s silver-linings, such as a rush of out-of-towners looking to work remotely and wait out the pandemic in the great outdoors. Business has been good, owners told the Dispatch, and the busy summer season shares that sunny prognosis — though, they noted, there are other challenges, such as an endemic worker shortage, that campgrounds will have to contend with for the foreseeable future.

“We were able to enjoy a very busy summer and fall in 2020,” said Jane Geike, a co-owner of Fritz’s Resort in Nisswa. “This year looks like it’s going to be very busy. This year looks like it’s on track to be as good as last summer. When you’re in the tourist business and you lose Memorial Day, it’s pretty difficult to recuperate those losses. We’ve been able to make up some of that. Once the restrictions were eased in July, we were full and we’ve been full ever since.”


Summer guests at Fritz's Resort, Bill and Sheila Hartl, talk with co-owner Jane Geike Friday, Aug. 21, near their travel trailer at the resort in Nisswa. With the pandemic, Jane and her husband Richard Geike have had to make special accommodations for campers and guests at the resort to keep them safe. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

“People are ready to get out,” said Coni Trusty, who along with her husband Phil is co-owner of Crow Wing Lake Campground south of Brainerd. “We are seeing, for this time of the year, the same numbers that we saw prior to COVID for the same weekend. We have fielded close to 1,400 calls since the second of January, just on messages alone, so people want to get out and go do different things. Our clients are coming back.”

“Our books are solid. Right now we have zero weekends available,” said Julie Middleton, owner of Sullivan’s Resort north of Brainerd. “Once we got opened up last year, we were actually solid as well. It was just a matter of getting opened up. I would say things are in line with a typical year.”

There were some differing perspectives on whether or not campgrounds were able to recover from the loss of Memorial Day weekend last year. Middleton said Sullivan’s Resort was able to climb back into the black after experiencing significant losses around this time last year with the closure. Trusty, on the other hand, didn’t mince words.

“You don’t recover from that, ever,” Trusty said. “You just have to go from where you’re at and move forward.”

Moving forward has been helped, in part, by the long-term presence of out-of-towners who rented cabins, campgrounds and resorts to weather the pandemic.

“It's really come back with a force,” said Matt Kilian, president of the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce, back in August. “As families leave the metropolitan areas they feel safe in the great outdoors and all of the lakes and the nature that we have up in the Brainerd lakes area. A lot of the small resorts and campgrounds have benefited greatly from that.”

RELATED: Lakes area campgrounds come roaring back after Memorial Day losses
That assessment has been borne out in the intervening months, campground owners confirmed, who noted that year-round campsites are often booked, with available spots few and far between. At this point, a new challenge facing campgrounds that they haven’t faced in years past is an endemic worker shortage. With campground owners struggling to fill more than 60-70% of their employment vacancies, Middleton said, owners have to pick up the slack and it’s resulted in a backlog of cabins and campsites that have to be cleaned, spruced up, and prepared before new customers can come in.


“They're going to have longer wait times to get into the cabin because of the cleaning,” Middleton said. “But, at the same time, our bookings are really strong and I think as long as we can get people in there, they're coming.”

By the numbers

Sullivan’s Resort and Campground on North Long Lake.

  • 7 acres.

  • 11 cabins.

  • 51 campsites.

  • 7 employees.

Fritz’s Resort Campground on Lake Edna.

  • 24 acres.

  • 5 cabins.

  • 90 campsites.

  • 7 employees.

Crow Wing Lake Campground on Crow Wing Lake.

  • 30 acres.

  • 100 campsites.

  • 7 employees.

GABRIEL LAGARDE may be reached at or 218-855-5859. Follow at .

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