Aug 21 2012
Ping-pong. A private beach. White wicker furniture. A screened porch. Rowboat access. A bonfire pit. Shuffleboard. Time-stand-still décor. Loyal, repeat customers.
All this is what separates the classic Wisconsin resort from other summer lodging options. Let’s add a house band that dares to play waltzes, an airy dining room with pastel slipcovers on hardback chairs and big windows to watch wobbly water skiers, burning pink sunsets and the approach of stormy weather.
What we have is the Alpine Resort, a third-generation family business in Door County that accommodates up to 250 guests on 300 acres that overlook Green Bay. For rent are tidy cottages, lodge rooms and guest houses.
Order a German Sampler – weiner schnitzel, sauerbraten, knockwurst, spaetzle and sauteed red cabbage – from the Hof restaurant, a nod to the owners’ heritage. Or stoke the coals on an outdoor grill and sizzle your own steaks.
Rare is the modern-day resort owner who resists the urge to scrap cottages for stacks of condos or sneak add-on fees for bike rentals to Internet access. At the Alpine, the overnight rate includes all resort diversions, except the 36 holes of golf.
The lodge opened 90 years ago, and a steamboat transported guests from Chicago and Milwaukee. They’d land in Sturgeon Bay, hop on a cab-bus to the Egg Harbor resort and pay $18 to $25 for a week of lodging and three meals per day.
Within five years, lodge size tripled and a golf course was added. The resort was self-sufficient, generating its own energy, but all power was cut at 11:15 every night. The five lodge fireplaces of granite and limestone remain, as do the original birch bark walls and maple floors.
Against walls are display cases with artifacts of the resort’s earliest years: Warwick china, thick hooks to hang meat, handheld devices to shred cabbage, slice butter and turn vegetables into curlicues. Other relics are more generic reminders of bygone times: kerosene lamps, a tub for bathing, World War II ration books and stamps.
Although sisters Cindy Livingston and Emily Pitchford run the show, parents Bill and Marie Bertschinger remain active in the resort’s daily business. The couple is in their 80s, and the family’s fourth and fifth generations also are put to work during summer. Winters are for building maintenance and remodeling.
“The worst thing you could tell me is that I can’t work,” says Bill, the resort’s troubleshooter. His first job at the Alpine was to pick up and transport linen, which meant he was allowed to drive the linen truck at age 12. That is how seasonal resort work got into his blood.
“The work was physical, I liked what I did and there were a lot of pretty girls,” he recalls. That made up for the 110-hour work weeks that would later become commonplace, years when he’d take time off by the hour instead of the full day.
His father and his uncle built this woodsy getaway, hauling some of the construction lumber over 17 miles of ice with horse and sleigh.
What has changed since Bill’s boyhood? Customer expectations. Now all lodging contains private bathrooms and televisions. Rates don’t automatically include meals; “you used to have one hour to get in the dining room,” Bill says, but the modern traveler – especially in Door County – wants the freedom to roam the peninsula and widen their dining choices.
The average guest also favors privacy. “We used to seat four couples who didn’t know each other at a table of eight” in the dining room, Bill says. “Now we can’t even get two families to sit together.”
Neither are people as trustworthy. Gone are the days of cashing checks indiscriminately. “Everybody used to be so pure,” Bill says. “You could put a fishing pole in a rowboat on Memorial Day, and it would still be there on Labor Day.”
Daughter Emily says the tight economy means “people are still coming here to stay, but they’re not spending money on as many other things,” like restaurant dining.
The black Cadillac across from our cottage had Indiana license plates. On the veranda, my rocker stayed in sync with those of a Minnesotan couple. A St. Louis woman, at the pool, said she was staying at the Alpine for her tenth year – and this was but one sign that customer loyalty perseveres.
Most impressive was the unexpected arrival of a friend’s relative, who had no clue about how to find us. The resort clerk narrowed the field fast.
“Have they stayed here before?” she asked, and the answer was no. It turns out that only two of the 30 cottages held newcomers.
Alpine Resort, 7715 Alpine Rd., Egg Harbor, is open from late May to mid October. Rates begin at $87 for lodge rooms and $150 for a cottage. The Hof restaurant is open to the public. For more: alpineresort.com, 877-318-8773.
Sincere thanks to the many Wisconsin Public Radio callers who recently shared their favorite classic summer resorts while I was a guest on “The Larry Meiller Show.” Ten of these locations, plus five of my own personal favorites, are listed here.
If you have a favorite classic resort location or story to share, please do so this month by sending me an email or snail mail. You get extra credit for posting a couple of lines on our Facebook page.