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Comfort is key for new ‘glamping’ resort at Bear Lake

First Published      Last Updated Aug 01 2015 09:15 pm

Logan • Tom Hendrick has come to enjoy delivering customers to their lodging at Conestoga Ranch.

"It's just great when you drive people up to their accommodations," says the part-owner of Bear Lake's first "glamping" resort. "The 'wow' factor makes it all worthwhile."

Those reactions come when people first peek into the large canvas tents — some built as Conestoga wagons, some teepee-style, and others resembling large hunting camps. Inside the "grand" units are multiple beds, fully plumbed toilets and a cowboy bathtub. Space heaters, swamp coolers and a mini-fridge round out the indoor amenities, while outside, burly Adirondack chairs surround the firepit. The smaller tents have scaled-down amenities, but each has electricity, wifi is available all over the 18-acre property, and almost every unit has a view of Bear Lake's famous turquoise waters.

"People like camping with a mattress," Hendrick says. "We're trying to focus on people who want to get away and relax but don't want to pack a lot of stuff. And kids just go nuts about sleeping in the wagons -- they just love it."

Indeed, with a high-end restaurant and a convenience store on site, visitor can show up without any of the typical camping accoutrements and be fine. (That includes matches: If your campfire isn't blazing by the time it gets dark, Josh the Handyman comes by to light it for you. Now that's glamour camping.)

It was a long journey to Garden City for Hendrick, who until a couple of years ago was a trader of fixed income debt in Chicago and New York. Last year he bought a glamping tent and set it up on private property near Jackson Hole, where his wife has relatives.

"I just wanted to try something new," says Hendrick, who still works in finance and lives north of New York City when he's not working in Garden City.

A friend in Victor, Idaho, referred Hendrick to Rich Smart and Mike Knapp, owners of Smart Construction in Rich County. Working on land owned by Smart, they began creating a resort with the help of a landscape designer. After "redesigning it a few times," they started construction April 1, keeping the "canvas theme" Hendrick coveted. Conestoga Ranch opened July 1.

"It's not really based on any other (resort)," Hendrick says. "We just kept talking until we ended up with this setup.

"It's all new," he adds. "This is a whole new world."

The resort now boasts 11 wagons, 10 "grand" tents and 14 "deluxe" tents, each featuring that new-wagon smell, for a total of 38 units that can sleep 168 customers. Weekends are already booked through mid-August, Hendrick says, with the majority of the visitors coming from northern Utah and southeast Idaho. The investors were so enamored with the concept that they started a spinoff business, Canvas & Company, to build and sell the wagons and tents, and are looking into launching new resorts between Bear Lake and Jackson Hole, and possibly in Island Park, Idaho ... and maybe even all across the country.

"We have every intention to expand and use this concept in other areas," Smart says. "We're really happy with the way it looks."

Both men say that while they did look at other glamping facilities, none quite matched what they wanted, so they had to come up with their own design.

"There was no valuable template to follow, so we were inventing every step of the process," Smart says. "Ninety percent of what we've done, we invented; that's something we're proud of."

At this point the grounds don't look as lush as the artist's renderings on the website. Few of the trees are tall enough to provide shade and privacy, and the grass is spotty, victimized by what Hendrick describes as "six and a half inches of rain in May." Night provides possibly the best representation of what the resort will eventually feel like -- islands of glowing tents golden, each with a flickering campfire out front. As the trees grow, Smart expects the area to "look a lot different."

To keep guests occupied, Conestoga offers a grassy area for volleyball, soccer, badminton, Wiffle ball and other games, a small arcade/game room, a ping-pong table and games such as "cornhole," along with rentals of bicycles and paddleboards. An on-site arena hosts rodeos every Saturday, and Hendrick hopes eventually to offer more concerts and other entertainment there.

"Parents want activities for their kids," Hendrick says. He purchased an additional 13 acres to the north and has plans to expand there, adding more units and possibly a swimming pool and courses for mini-golf and disc golf.

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