On the cusp of the official start of summer, people wonder if they should even take a vacation this year.
For many, the answer is a cautious yes.
They are tired of staying at home, even in the face of a pandemic. States including Minnesota are easing restrictions put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19. A growing chorus of experts tells us that being outdoors is relatively safe because fresh air can diffuse and disarm the coronavirus. And despite the Centers for Disease Control’s advice to stay home and Gov. Tim Walz’s latest executive order that says Minnesotans are “strongly discouraged to engage in unnecessary travel,” the lure of lake and woods is too strong to ignore. For families with squirming children, whose summers have traditionally been marked by treasured annual escapes, taking a vacation can feel almost, well, necessary.
Resorts are fielding some cancellations, especially from people who are over 65 or who have underlying conditions such as asthma or obesity that put them at greater risk of serious illness from COVID-19. But they are also buoyed by fresh reservations. Ludlow’s Island Resort on Lake Vermilion is hosting people who had planned fishing trips to Canada, where the border is closed to nonessential travel. Madden’s Resort, near Brainerd, is receiving twice the number of calls it got last year at this time. East Silent Lake Resort, near Detroit Lakes, Minn., will welcome people who have canceled flying vacations. “They want to stay close to home, and they want to be able to drive,” said Andy Leonard, one of the family members who own and run the Otter Tail County resort.
Minnesotans want their fix of summer fun. Making sure they can get that while staying healthy requires a little unusual preparation by both resorts and vacationers. The result of these special precautions? The classic summer vacation may look a bit less classic this year.
Safety measures at play
Vacationers will see masks, social distancing and protective barriers at resorts, said John Edman, director of Explore Minnesota. Some resorts are eliminating game rooms. Some are asking guests to bring their own bedding, he said.
Yes, lounge chairs will face the lake, but a new amenity will likely share space on the beach: a sanitizing station that sunbathers can use to wipe down shared seating and water toys.
Helpers will whisk luggage to your room or cabin as always, but their smiles will hide behind masks.
Lodges with their stockpiles of board games and puzzles could be closed and restaurant operations reduced to carryout as resorts try to limit interaction between guests, as is the case right now at East Silent Lake Resort.
At the mom-and-pop resort, the daily children’s activity will no longer bring a heap of youngsters to one table. Instead, families will be invited to participate and sit at their own tables. The resort will still offer pontoon boat rides and evening s’mores, but it will likely offer them more frequently so each event will draw fewer people.
Madden’s five restaurants are opening, but to-go options will be available all summer.
At Ludlow’s, ozone machines hum inside public spaces, including a store where guests can grab items like ice cream sandwiches and hot dogs. The machines circulate air, running it through virus-killing ultraviolet rays. The store has always worked on the honor system, with guests noting purchases in a book. This spring, owner Mark Ludlow changed the setup. Now each cabin has a dedicated booklet and pen. He placed the booklets outside the door on the breezeway to limit people’s time indoors.
Sanitizing stations at Ludlow’s are nearly as numerous as cabins; there are 22 of them scattered around the property among its 24 cabins. The boat that picks up guests at the parking lot to motor them to the island will now carry only one group at a time and be wiped down between trips.
At nearby Pehrson Lodge Resort on Lake Vermilion, the fitness center will be open to one family at a time, the lodge will be open at 25% capacity, and goods from the gift store and tackle shop can be delivered to the cabins.
Behind the scenes cleaning
Less visible to visitors will be the cleaning precautions that have become a key component of this summer season for resort owners.
Mark Ludlow struggled to find the kinds of cleaning supplies that are approved by the CDC to kill viruses and in large enough quantities to service the resort. After striking out with other businesses, he turned to some regulars for help. One guest who comes each year sells products to veterinary clinics and supplied Ludlow’s with a hydrogen peroxide cleanser called Rejuvenate. Through another regular who works in the automotive industry, he tapped into a product called GClean: G200Q, which can be sprayed on porous items like bedding and nonporous items like kitchen counters.
East Silent Lake Resort has hired more workers for this summer; the sole job of some will be to roam the grounds and sanitize amenities such as Jet Skis and kayaks.
An uptick in camping
Some travelers, wary of indoor spaces during the pandemic, are heading to campgrounds, using tents for shelter. Kampgrounds of America’s special report on camping and COVID notes that one-third of leisure travelers are now interested in giving camping a try. Among the reasons are a desire to spend time outdoors and the ability to social-distance.
Minnesota’s state parks began a phased reopening on June 1, with many offering camper cabins and campsites. For instance, the main campground at Gooseberry Falls State Park, near Two Harbors, is open, though some sites are unavailable to create more space. Shower buildings are also open. Group campsites will remain closed through at least July 1.
Whether heading to the woods or a resort, vacationers should bring and wear masks in public spaces and stay at least 6 feet away from people outside the family — to keep themselves and anyone working at a resort or park healthy.
The measures are simple and easy enough to employ when you’re sitting by the beach, hiking through the woods or fishing from a boat.
“It’s a very different summer in Minnesota,” Edman said.
But vacation can still be special.