Thursday, August 20, 2009

Old Folk's Mini-Vacation - Planning

Once upon a time in a somewhat remote, semi-impoverished, perceived uneducated and undeveloped state called Arkansas, there lived a retired couple past the age of 70 who decided to rejuvenate and replicate their fishing vacations of nearly 35 years ago. These were vacations along a large lake running the Arkansas-Missouri state line near Peel, AR and Peel Ferry - yes, a ferry that transported vehicles and passengers across Bull Shoals Lake, between the two states.

In May, 1980 the couple chose to semi-retire in Bull Shoals, AR at the somewhat early ages of late 40s. Both found work and continued to fish, their shared interest. As years past and retirements in 1996 and 1999, their ages and medical problems somewhat diminished the frequency of their fishing, but never extinguished it.

This year they longed to recreate the magic of long past vacations. One dream was to travel the upper Northwest by car with stops in Yellowstone, etc., but the realization that may never happen has set in, so they curtailed their dreams to a smaller vacation, simulating the earlier fishing forays into their now home state.

Yes, that describes us pretty well. So we decided to recreate our fishing vacations to small resorts. Most resorts around Bull Shoals Lake are similar to fishing cabins in other states. Most resorts are comprised of small cabins with equipped kitchens, a bathrooms, living/eating areas and 1-2 bedrooms.

Our small city is a recreational area with numerous resorts. Since 9/11/01 and the on-going economic decline, most recreational activities and the associated businesses that depend on those revenues are in steep decline. Some resorts have converted to essential housekeeping apartments leased monthly to yearly.

Staying ahead of the curve in guest accommodations includes adding such things as free cable or satellite TV, free Internet connectivity, preferably dependable WiFi, modern dock facilities for various marine vehicles, non-fishing and/or non-water related activities and swimming pools. Most resorts are struggling to keep up with modern motel facilities (like Holiday Inn Express) and continued upkeep of existing facilities.

The vulnerable tourism industry in our part of the state has had several capricious events that have damaged their livelihood, besides 9/11 and recession.

(1) After 9/11 national tourism business changed dramatically, partly because of the event, and partly because citizens were working longer hours, taking salary instead of time, in order to simply live what was perceived as a comfortable life.

(2) In Spring, 2008 Bull Shoals Lake crested above 695.02 flood level which flooded many accesses to the Lake and posed dangerous navigation by boaters unfamiliar to the Lake. Major fishing tournaments were canceled so potential participants canceled reservations throughout the area.

(3) In Jan./Feb. 2009 a 1000 year ice storm damaged many facilities and delayed early spring reservations (some fish spawn in February).

(4) Despite a change of national administration and their efforts, the recession continued to deepen through June.

Because over 30 years have passed, and we now live in the area, we decided to physically inspect several resorts before making reservations.

We did some searching on the Internet. BEWARE! Things are not always as the appear as you will soon read.

The first day we drove to the Peel area where we not only enjoyed fishing vacations, but once considered building sites. The resort we favored long ago apparently no longer exists. Another resort and restaurant we used for a small fishing club tournament was unimpressive and no Internet.

But one place was abominable. Its Internet web page was succinct but had WiFi . We found the dirt road, which needed grading badly; I could not decided if I had received an unassisted chiropractic adjustment, or needed to seek a chiropractor's services! We finally arrived at the resort but decided to check out their boat dock facilities before stopping--we continued down the narrow, badly washed, rutty, back-cracking road. Dock appeared decent and accessible.

We drove back to the resort--read : repeat the underlined road description - paragraph above. We stopped at the office, the windows of which were illuminated with many neon beer logos. For non-drinkers this is not appealing nor reassuring. On each side of the front steps were 30+gallon black garbage bags filled to bursting, stacked higher than either of our heads.

Nevertheless we entered the dark, stifling hot, office, absent personnel. It was so hot I could have crawled into either of two double sided, refrigerated, beer cases to cool off. I noticed there were no soft drinks nor water for sale, ONLY beer.

Finally, a person in a 2-piece, frayed night gown with holes in it and belly button exposed, entered office from backroom. It was 11 a.m.

We politely inquired about reservations. The registrar pulled out a loose leaf hand-written reservation book and said, "I can probably accommodate you on a certain date," spoken as if it was some imposition to our being worked in.

I know that place could not be overloaded with reservations, so I peeked at the open pages. There were six units and over two weeks there were only two reservations.

After a polite "Thank You" we could not get out of there fast enough. On the way out I noticed weeds growing as tall as the garbage bags in front of the units.

We decided to drive further away to Diamond City, AR. After lunch in a lovely restaurant in Lead Hill we drove 9 miles to Diamond City to a unit we also found on the Internet. We were not disappointed here, but access to the resort's private dock would have killed me. It was a steep hill without steps, but even if it had steps, I would not have made it up and down that hill.

After some discussion the owner offered to pullt his pontoon from a rented stall at a public marina, except we would be charged his monthly rental rate.

We drove over 100 miles and did not find a resort solution that was comfortable and provided access to our boat that would accommodate my artificial knees.

Bull Shoals Lake is so big (700 mi. shore line), you can drive 20 miles from home and be in a different par of this beautiful clear water lake.

The next day my husband (H) set off with Luckie in a different direction, closer to home. He spent the greater part of one day looking at as many options as i could find on Internet. My best friend suggested we check out Black Oak Resort as she knew they stayed ahead of the game. After two days and two tanks of gas, Black Oak Resort, Oakland, AR is where we landed. It turns out H & I know the owner, who is fire chief at Oakland, AR.

[See Cabin, Lake and SUNSET for photos of our cabin which is not the deluxe offerings. Or visit Black Oak Resort website (sorry their photos are copyrighted, mine are not! I do not use photos obviously marked as copyrighted.]


Arkansas Patti said...

Now that was some thorough searching and you were so smart to check ahead. That "beer" resort would have been awful.
I would have woefully and stupidly trusted the internet. Thanks for the lesson.
Now if they only accepted dogs I would schedule some time myself. For now, I will have to be content with your pictures and stories.

Renie Burghardt said...

Interesting account of searching for the right spot. (By the way, I moved here in 1983. We don't have a lake, but we have the Current River, Eleven Point River and the Spring River, and I love it.) That resort (???) with all the beer sounds dire! I am glad you found the perfect spot, though. Enjoy the weekend. I will be spending most of it at my log cabin on the Current River.


NitWit1 said...

Patti: I really worry that persons researching our northern AR area with Internet or Chamber or Resort/Tourism info end up disappointed.

I learned to recognize the web sites by those who designed their own, and those who had a professionally designed, set up and maintained web site. That fee is not cheap either. It was somewhat indicative of the condition of the resort to me.

There were only two on the Internet I think were high caliber and high dollar, in the middle area of the lake. But after this experience I would even drive to look at them.

Usually, the web designer/maintainer will copyright the website and have their name at the bottom of the home page.

We were lucky even in the 70's when we wrote for brochures.

But then in our little neck of the woods, we have Gaston's Resort and Restaurant in neighboring Lakeview where you can fly in for breakfast!

Most do not return deposits, either!

Pat - Arkansas said...

Good advice to check out things in advance. An interesting tale. Glad things worked out well in the end, and that you had a good time.

Robert said...

Reading over this conversation has gotten my full attention. I'll read it again a few times, but wanted to comment.

May I ask, what are your suggestions that would help improve the web presence, or the representation of the Bull Shoals Lake / White River area to make touring our region easier?