Lake City Resort Owners Are Building a Peaceful and Welcoming Small Home Community – Post Bulletin

LAKE CITY, Minnesota – Between reservations at the Bending River Cove Resort, Tom and Stephanie Rothering walk a cobblestone path and stroll through their seven tiny homes.

As she tours the tiny homes, Stephanie smiles at the reclaimed wood in the bathroom, the old crate stickers plastered to the walls, and the serene view of the Mississippi River. They are creating their own ‘personal touch’ with ‘unconventional’ fun houses and plan to add a common room for guests. The couple purchased the resort in April 2023.

“We want to be an integral part of the community and meet a lot of people and be a part of what’s happening in the Wabasha and Lake City area,” Stephanie said. “We were nothing but amazed, and the people were so good.”

Tom jokes that there’s only one room of interest at the resort: his new office on Queen River, a Mississippi riverfront gem.

Tom and Stephanie said it’s the river that “runs in his blood,” which is one of the reasons they love running the resort. They will move to Queen River, the main cottage, in November. Right now, the couple, their daughter, and two dogs are enjoying the “amazing” river scenery and tiny 800-square-foot trailer.

With the onset of the last summer heat, Stephanie points out a bunch of leaves turning orange. With autumn approaching, she can’t wait to see the river full of fall colours. Tom also hopes the resort can be “very crowded” in September and October.

The couple say people will want to experience what it’s like to live in a nightmare on the love train or take off their shoes to enjoy the sand in their “no shoes, no shirt, no problem” beach vibe. Every room is comfortable. Every guest is invited to relax.

“We’re far enough away that people don’t bother us, but close enough that if people want to see us, they come to see us. It’s very nice,” said Tom.

Stephanie finds herself drawn to Bohemian Rhapsody, the chic orange and gray space with a wraparound surface, and the soothing blues and greens of Birch Studio where she escapes to read. The Birch Studio, which sleeps two guests in 200 square feet, is the only room open year-round. Homes, with the exception of Birch Studio, require a two-night stay. Tom says that’s enough experience for some people.

Bend River Cove

The view from one of the small homes at Bending River Cove overlooking Lake Pepin on Monday, August 21, 2023 near Lake City.

Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

He also enjoys conversations about helping people find their tiny homes. He regularly connects buyers with their campground and resort plans as a realtor, mostly in Wisconsin and now expanding to Minnesota.

Bending River Cove Resort guides the Rotherings to their first tiny homeownership. Tom says the resort achieves a “genius idea”: a one-bedroom home for him and Stephanie and separate spaces for their five children. The family previously lived in Eden Prairie, Minnesota and Fontaine City, Wisconsin.

“Honestly, we had a big thing like we were almost 50, so what are we going to do with the rest of our lives? Our lives are probably over, so what are the big things we have?” Stephanie said.

Their big things: traveling and fishing. The little houses, situated above the start of Lake Pepin’s stretch of the Mississippi River, provided them with ways to serve people and have fun.

“It’s a special place,” Stephanie said.

Build tiny houses from scratch

Among piles of lumber pulled from old structures, Mike Burke sits comfortably in his sawdust-covered chair in his garage shop in Kellogg. Friends spot his car on a stretch of cobblestone road and stop to chat — and check out their reclaimed projects. They are also trying to solve societal issues.

“If I had a place with a nice little house, and you had a little parking space, and you had your own little yard on the river and it cost you $600 a month, would that be a better alternative (for an apartment)?” Burke asks the youngest guest.

Burke describes the “whimsical” little homes at Bending River Cove Resort as “my kids.” He loves peace-seeking guests, construction crew “goofy discussions”, and friends finding their own creative outlets. He built and owned the resort from 2017 to 2023.

“People will keep coming and saying, ‘Oh my God, we want to stay because you have such good reviews,'” Burke said. “One day, they finally showed me and here there are 100 five-star reviews, but I never knew and I treated everyone the same.”

Bend River Cove

The view from one of the small homes at Bending River Cove overlooking Lake Pepin on Monday, August 21, 2023 near Lake City.

Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

Over a morning cup of coffee, the Burke’s Friends and Family crew built up their plans for the day: custom-made the frame, built the deck and matched the wood mix inside. They fashioned tiny homes from their reclaimed projects, including the Winona State University grandstands and parts of churches, schools, and railroads. When the sun was not yet high over the slopes, the crew moved the small houses.

“There were all these things to make this (the resort) eclectic,” Burke said.

“I gave every bit of blood, sweat and tears,” Burke said. “I mean, all of the infrastructure designed everything, built everything.”

A few months after signing the sale agreement with the Rotherings, Burke says, “I miss them every day.” He adds that the “hardest and most painful” decision was to allow the tiny houses to pass on to their next owners. He is grateful to share his one chance at a resort on Lake Pepin with guests from all over the world.

“A lot of people are missing,” Burke said, his eyes clouding with memories of the resort. “I really hope Tom and Stephanie… have to put their own stamp on things, but it’s hard because with tiny houses, that’s been my character.”

He insists he never hosts a bad guest. Each guest could experience a game of baseball over 60’s radio. Each guest moved away from their worries to a “place to find peace”.

Guests’ weddings and family events—as well as his own family who helped maintain the resort—gave Burke “this huge extended family.” He shared his family’s agricultural history through journals and served cookies and jelly at Christmas time. “I never got into it for the money,” he says of his resort and nonprofit construction business.

“The resort was my sanctuary,” Burke says from its location on US Highway 61 with a view of Lake Pepin. And he hopes to find another nice place for his next little home.

“Everything I did there and everything I tried to achieve was for peace,” Burke said. “I wanted people to find some sense of peace.”

Serving guests and the community at Bending River Cove

A small amount of water traffic sailed through the Lake Pepin Channel on Monday afternoon recently. The boat goes through the resort on the rapids and again the water settles in a calm rhythm. In their first year as resort owners, Tom and Stephanie hear the sounds of their new home.

Tom says his attraction to rivers is “the reckoning of waves.” He’s also looking for a “genuine compliment” for guests returning to their resort’s beaches next year. One of the guests is already returning for monthly visits to the “very classic” Homegrown Honey house. Stephanie plans to bring an airy theme to the four-person home.

Bend River Cove

Decor in the bedroom of a tiny house, no shirt, no shoes, no problem, in Bend River Cove on Monday, August 21, 2023, near Lake City.

Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

And while they add “personal touches” throughout the resort, they are grateful to see Berk create and welcome guests. From the reclaimed terraces to the church and school lots, the Rotherings say he built it with “heart and soul”.

“I hope that the seeds or saplings that were planted there will continue to grow,” Burke said. “That would be all I really want.”

During every guest visit, Tom says, “If you need something, just ask.” Each guest is given “personal attention” and given an outside space.

“I love making sure that they are being cared for, that they have what they need,” Stephanie said. “I want them to feel at home and be able to relax and feel like they’re getting away even if they’re not far from home.”

The following guest experiences build a community that includes a dog park, common room for extra kitchen supplies and laundry, and a pool table. It is also where locals can gather for corporate retreats, auto clubs, and church groups. With increased amenities, Tom hopes to host more guests Monday through Thursday.

“We’re willing to do a lot to help people experience them,” said Tom.

During her adventures through “cool little river towns,” Stephanie says people enjoy sailing, breweries, state parks and antique shops. She also breathes a love for Lake City, and is grateful for her parents and the resort that brought them here.

“Just hearing them experience the valley makes me happy too,” said Stephanie. Tom says it’s her “nature” to welcome people and hear their life stories.

In July, the Rotherings Hotel hosted an occupancy rate of 83%. It’s been a slower August but they’re glad the new reservation system that aggregates orders from Airbnb and VRBO has made it seamless ahead of the busy fall.

“A lot of people think something like that is out of reach for them, that it’s too expensive or too much work and there’s no money in it. It’s the exact opposite,” said Tom. The Rotherings worked on the financing over nine months. “I’d like to I say to any young couple who has a knack for service or a service orientation and can do this because I believe it is one of the fastest and safest ways to build wealth.”

Their next vacation rental places: Wabasha or out on the water.

When they hit the waters for the Dick Healy St. Jude Bass Classic in October, Tom and Stephanie hope to raise awareness about St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and get guests to donate to the fundraiser. It’s one of the ways they see the resort giving back to the community, in addition to partnering with FFA and 4-H Chapters on projects.

“I don’t think we’re really going to hire a bunch of people here… It’s not a big place to hire, but if we can give people opportunities and find creative ways to give back, that’s it.” “Things that matter to both of us,” said Tom.

As river life changes with the seasons, the Rotherings find seagulls, pelicans and eagles welcome them home. “I keep saying, ‘I’m so glad we moved here,'” Stephanie says. Ultimately, the resort can pass into an inheritance to their children.

“How many people ask us when they leave here and say, ‘Do you pinch yourself every day when you wake up?’” Tom described. “You live on vacation all the time.”

(Tags for translation) Mississippi River Properties

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