Photo Caption: The renovated lounge at the Burr Oak State Park Lodge. Photo courtesy of Ohio Division of Parks.
The folks at Burr Oak Lodge and Conference Center will host an open house and rededication July 17 to show off their newly remodeled facility. And a once-active support group is also restarting in hopes of making the lodge viable and enhancing recreation opportunities in the region.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources is spending $2 million in hopes of luring visitors back to the lodge and surrounding Burr Oak State Park. Located near Glouster, the park straddles Athens, Morgan and Perry counties about a half hour north of Athens.
Ohio State Parks District Manager Mike Powers said 19 rooms in the lodge have been renovated and are now open. Nineteen more should be done in time for the open house.
The total of 38 rooms is down from 60 before the renovation. The rooms have been enlarged, with many of them converted into suites.
They're also nicer, said Powers, with Wi-Fi, faster Internet service, and upgraded cable TV. There's new carpeting and paint at the lodge, too.
Powers said the dining room has been "totally revamped" and the swimming pool "redone." In addition, the tennis and basketball courts have been "reconditioned" and a miniature golf course and a "courtesy" boat dock added. Boaters can tie-up at the dock and walk to the lodge to eat.
"We're doing pretty good," said Powers, when asked about occupancy, noting that no advertising has been done yet. That will happen when the construction is all done.
He said the lodge has been "mostly full" on weekends with an average occupancy rate of "40-45 percent" in May.
The park also still has a campground and 30 cottages available to visitors.
U.S. Hotel and Resort Management is in charge of operations. The company was brought in last fall when ODNR decided to reopen the lodge, which had been closed because of low occupancy.
Powers said the state is happy with the U.S. Hotel "partnership." The company was given a two- year "service contract," and when that expires, the plan is to put the management services out to bid.
Last fall, ODNR also promised to establish new programs and activities at the park to turn it into more of a tourist destination, and Powers said they've done that. Two examples are "an interactive nature center" and the employment of activity directors.
Powers welcomes the creation of Burr Oak Alive, a support group formerly known as Friends of Burr Oak State Park. According to a Facebook posting, "Burr Oak Alive! is a regional collaborative group dedicated to the revitalization of Burr Oak State Park."
Powers said the group can help to "brainstorm" and develop new ideas for the 2,600-acre park.
Members of the group are getting together June 27 for a "reorganization meeting."
Friends member John Knouse of Athens acknowledged, "We have a lot of work cut out for us." The group has not been active for several years and its non-profit status has lapsed.
Knouse said he and 10 others who met recently are "interested in gaining more (public) interest in and involvement in both the park and the lodge."
Those who attended the meeting "seemed to bring different skills and interests… ranging from theater to marketing, to coordination with Columbus groups," said Knouse. "We will be exploring possible linkages with groups such as Little Cities of Black Diamonds… Ohio's Hill Country Heritage, and Columbus Outdoor Pursuits."
"We all hope to make the park more of a focal point for the area," said Knouse, "to have more area people involved in the park, and to use it, and the lodge especially, for many local events. "
"We hope… to help make it more economically viable for the state," he continued, "and certainly and ultimately to avert any possibility of it becoming an ATV (all-terrain vehicle) park." Instead, said Knouse, "We want to maintain, especially, the presence of the Buckeye Trail/North Country National Scenic Trail in the park, since it is one of the nicest stretches of this trailway in Ohio."
Development of ATV facilities apparently is still under consideration. Powers said there's been "no decision" about whether to proceed.