St. Louis businessman Ken Lommel loves to play golf – but he was looking for something “a little different” when he brought his family to Northern Michigan in July. He found it by hooking up with guide and outfitter Georg Schluender, the new director of “silent sports” at Shanty Creek Resorts. In the course of a week he and his eight-member party took mountain bikes to the summit of Schuss Mountain, paddled down the Jordan River and went on a geocaching expedition – and still had time for lots and lots of golf.
“We’ve got a lot of things to do down here in Missouri, but I don’t think there’s anyplace where you can do so much in one place,” he says. “This was something very different for us – we can’t wait to go back again.”
That’s exactly what Shanty Creek’s new owners hoped to accomplish when they created their silent sports program this year and hired Schluender to run it. A veteran guide and outfitter whose experience ranges from whale-watching trips in Washington to birding expeditions in South Carolina, he’s designed an outdoor program that encompasses everything from charter fishing and bicycle touring to snowshoe hikes and moonlight rafting trips.
Schluender calls the concept “wilderness elegance” – a package that blends low-impact outdoor adventures like mountain biking, fly-fishing and kayaking with fine dining and upscale lodging.
It’s not a new idea, of course. For nearly 150 years, outdoor enthusiasts from George Armstrong Custer to Ernest Hemingway have been drawn to the woods and waters of the Traverse City area, drawn by the region’s scenic beauty and the rich bounty of its fields and forests. But today’s visitors want to encounter the wilderness on different terms – as cyclists, hikers and paddlers – and they sometimes prefer to add a little pampering to the experience.
“They can be out all day interacting with the natural world, whether that’s a fishing trip or a bicycle tour through the countryside, and at the end of it come back to a nice dinner, a bottle of fine wine and a sauna,” says Schluender. “It appeals to people who love the outdoors but don’t want to sleep on the ground at night.”
Located in the village of Bellaire, about 35 miles northeast of Traverse City, Shanty Creek is typical of major resorts in the Traverse City area, which are geared largely toward a golf/ski cycle and only now beginning to create the necessary infrastructure to take advantage of changing consumer tastes. Its new silent sports program is part of a wider strategy to appeal to new groups of vacationers who aren’t drawn to the resort’s traditional offerings.
Depending on the season, guests can choose from among a wide menu of options. In the warm weather months there’s cycling (both mountain biking and touring), horseback riding, wilderness hiking, birding, paddling, fly-fishing or charter fishing for salmon and other deepwater species. Winter brings expanded cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, dogsled tours and even moonlight river rafting down a swift snow-shrouded river. All the activities include instruction, equipment rentals and, when necessary, the services of a guide.
“What’s becoming really popular are multi-adventure tours where we combine two or three activities,” says Schluender. “Suppose we kayak down the Jordan River, then jump on bikes and ride the Jordan Valley Trail back to the beginning. Or in winter, raft down the river and ski or snowshoe back to the top of the valley. There’s really no limit to what we can do.”
The program is also drawing attention from an unexpected source. Corporate meeting planners have been fascinated by its potential as a unique team-building and educational component for executive retreats and small group seminars. A youth camp on nearby Torch Lake allows Shanty Creek to use its high-altitude ropes course for such groups, while others have adapted the growing sport of geocaching – where participants use GPS equipment and Internet clues to search for hidden caches of information – to their meeting themes.