Change of Plans: Rowleys Bay Resort For Sale

The owners of Rowleys Bay Resort in Ellison Bay will not rebuild. 

A fire flattened a good chunk of the resort on Sept. 5, when firefighters from every Door County department, and some in Kewaunee and Brown counties, battled the blaze. Eight employees who were living in the lodge lost everything they owned and several others were displaced. A Go Fund Me page for the staff raised $36,832, surpassing the $25,000 goal. 

But owners Jewel and Bob Ouradnik said in the immediate aftermath of the fire that they would repair and rebuild.

“It was the only path we could see at that time,” said Jewel Ouradnik in a statement. 

The Ouradniks have a deep faith, and since the fire, they said God has worked in their hearts and shown them a different way, one that has someone else carrying on and building their own dreams. That faith, Jewel Ouradnik said by phone, Tuesday, “is a huge comfort for us.

“I did not plan on retiring at 62,” she said. “I loved what I was doing. But it’s all making sense now.”

The resort before the Sept. 5, 2023 fire. Photo from Rowleys Bay Resort Facebook.

Jewel and her husband, Bob (70), have four married children and 15 grandchildren. They’d like to be more present in the lives of their family “while we’re relatively young and healthy,” she said. They’d also like to pay off the loan at the bank and start a new chapter of their lives.

But it was a “gut-wrenching” time when it came to telling their employees last week. Ouradnik said she struggled and cried and talked with family members.

“Honestly, this is all I’ve ever known,” she said. “I left at 18-years-old and told my mom that I would visit, but wouldn’t return.”

She did, of course. She met Bob, they married, and a couple years later, decided to raise their children in Door County. They rejoined the hospitality life – upon which Ouradnik herself had been raised by her parents, Leonard and Alice Peterson, who purchased the resort in 1970 – and never looked back.

The Property As Is 

The property is located along a secluded shore at the end of County Road ZZ. Grown over time as a “labor of love,” Ouradnik said, there was a 65,000-square-foot main lodge and Grandma’s Swedish Bakery built upon Ouradnik’s mother’s recipes. They added to the original resort three times (in 1979, 1984 and 1993), and including the cottages on the property, had approximately 85 lodging units before the fire.

“Right now we have 36 left plus two cottages so that’s what’s left for a new buyer,” Ouradnik said. “We also have a staff house, a good maintenance building.”

Grandma’s Swedish Bakery is gone, but the restaurant that can seat about 80 people and the conference facility that comfortably holds 150 also remains.

“It just needs a scrub,” Ouradnik said.

Firefighters from every Door County department and a couple from Kewaunee and Brown counties battled the Sept. 5 blaze for hours. File photo by Tad Dukehart.

But it’s no longer a turn-key operation.

“We know that’s going to affect our pricing,” Ouradnik said. “But it gives somebody the opportunity to do what they want there. There are still good buildings.”

They have not signed a contract with an agent and do not know what the property would sell for in its current condition. Real estate company advertised an auction of the property on April 27, 2016 and at that time, the list price was $3.75 million, with an opening bid of $2.85 million, according to a Peninsula Pulse story at the time.

Ouradnik said that auction had been a way for them to explore future options. At the time, their business partner, Bob Czerniakowski, had no interest in continuing. The three had bought the business together in 2003 from Ouradnik’s father, Leonard Peterson, upon his retirement. What resulted from that advertised auction was the sale of 700 feet of Lake Michigan shoreline to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). 

“When we sold that property to the DNR, they wanted shoreline access, access to the Mink River, they wanted a safe harbor,” Ouradnik said. “It helped us through a rough bump in the road.”

By then, they had rebranded (2010), changing the name of their Wagon Trail Resort back to its original name, Rowleys Bay Resort, to embrace their history and heritage. In 2020, the Ouradniks bought out their partner and despite the pandemic, “the past three years have been amazing,” Ouradnik said.

Then came the fire, and the signs that it was time to sell after 53 years of family stewardship of the land and property.

The resort property that will be up for sale is situated on less than 20 acres – between 13 and 16 acres, Ouradnik said. Another 60 acres they own won’t be for sale. Neither will that DNR-owned shoreline property that includes a couple cottages and the marina. The Ouradniks had managed that property for the DNR, an agreement that will expire by year’s end – another coincidental circumstance that only added to the signs that it was time to sell, Ouradnik said.

The Future of Rowleys Bay Resort

Rowleys Bay Resort had existed for a couple decades under different owners before Ouradnik’s mother, Alice Peterson, asked the owner if they could rent one of the buildings for a church youth group.

“And he [the owner] said, ‘OK, but do you want to buy it?’” Ouradnik recalled. 

Alice Peterson called her husband, and with a $100 down payment and Ouradnik’s grandfather’s co-signature on the loan, the Petersons became the new owners of the inn in 1970, renaming it Wagon Trail Resort. The inspiration came from an off-brand jar of peanut butter that was sitting on the table when Ouradnik’s father was considering names for his newly acquired property.

Over the years, guests have become friends, and families have built a lifetime of memories on their vacations at the resort. For the impact the resort has had on people, Ouradnik said she feels it’s been a higher calling.

“I love the hospitality industry,” she said. “I love being around people, It’s just my thing. I got to meet new people every day. I really feel it was my ministry.”

The Ouradniks hope that whoever buys the property will maintain it as a resort and Ouradnik said she could even help with that process.

“I think it’s a really great place to have a hotel,” she said. “Customers want that wild-side nature theme we have.”

But she acknowledged several times that while they care deeply about the property and Rowleys Bay, they can’t control the property’s future use. 

“Nothing is ever going to be the same,” she said. “Change is a constant and it’s not all bad. Sometimes, it’s something new and exciting. The future is full of possibilities.” 

She’s already seen social media comments from those concerned the property will become a less desirable form of commercial development.

“I understand people’s hesitation about those things, but we can’t control that,” Ouradnik said. “It will be somebody else’s new dream.”

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