Just ask Gaylord's Paul Beachnau about what keeps him busy during his breaks from his job as the executive director of the Gaylord Area Convention and Tourism Bureau, and he’ll walk you to his garage.
Inside, Beachnau explains, you’ll see three types of bicycles. Downhill skis. Crosscountry skis. Golf clubs. At least 10 fishing rods and three tackle boxes. Two kayaks. And, that’s just at first glance. There’s more where that came from.
That little tour shows you exactly why you should consider making Gaylord and its surrounding hills and river valleys of greater Otsego County your group’s next meeting place.
Other reasons? Plenty. The very name, Otsego, Beachnau points out, means, “meeting place” in Native American, for starters
As any event planner knows, it’s all about location. Gaylord is smack in the geographic middle of Michigan’s twin peninsulas, making it easy to reach whether you’re coming from Benton Harbor or Baraga. And, as Beachnau’s garage illustrates, the sheer volume of things to do outside of the conference room gives you a hint of what’s available for your group on breakout days.
Beachnau will tick off other reasons for coming to this town that embraces its “urbanwoodsy, big-small town” feel, including two new hotels that have recently joined the mix in this town, nicknamed the Alpine City. It’s also home to the Lower Peninsula’s largest exhibition space north of metro Detroit.
“We have every amenity you can imagine for conference attendees,” he continues. That includes new additions to Gaylord’s trending reputation as a growing foodie destination, such as, a new branch of Tap Room 32, and a renovated Big Buck Brewery, which has its own meeting space for groups of up to 30, and mainstay resorts that have also taken up the culinary cause with events that promote local products and produce.
In winter, the focus on after-meeting fun is on snow, with skiing, both downhill and cross-country high on the menu.
In summer, Gaylord looks to its warmer outdoor attributes, adding everything from trout fishing to cycling on the North Central State Trail, a segment of Michigan’s 2,000-mile-long Iron Belle Trail, which, when complete, will be the nation’s longest trial within one state.
Groups can easily hop on rental bikes on Gaylord’s stretch for an hour or a day, from welcoming nearby communities. Or, stretch your legs and goals to ride all the way to Mackinaw City
Enjoying the Treetops
Adding to the mix are those meeting venues, like Treetops Resort. Begun as a mom-andpop-run local ski hill called Sylvan Knob, Treetops calls itself Michigan’s most spectacular resort, and considering its location overlooking the Pigeon River valley, the theme fits.
It’s the place where Gaylord’s summer theme of “Golf Mecca” was born, and where in winter, snow fun takes top billing, says John Rakis, Treetops’ director of sales and marketing.
“We have a lot of different meeting spaces available. In our lodge hotel, we have two we call the Oak and Birch rooms. They hold 220 and 260 each, and are also dividable so groups can have breakout sessions,” Rakis says.
Then there’s the big space, the 10,000-squarefoot convention center that can hold up to 1,000 theater-style or 760 for banquets.
One of Treetops’ other great draws, he says, is that attendees can bring their families. “We not only set up meetings and different themed dinners, but activities for families as well as group activities. We pride ourselves on being able to customize and create something unique for each group.”
That includes having a licensed daycare facility right at the resort that will design children’s programs while the parents are busy at, say, an awards dinner. “Because of our size, Treetops can do a lot of fun things.”
Treetops also prides itself on innovative events to make any gathering worth remembering. “An idea we’re developing for one group is planning an ‘Amazing Race’-type event on the property, where every stop is a culinary adventure from a different country. It’s definitely a fun event customization,” he says.
Activities to blend into any meeting include its popular cross-country ski and snowshoe Skiable Feast culinary events, featuring crosscountry skiing or trekking between five food stations, as well as its famous sleigh rides to gourmet dinners in a woodsy cabin on Treetops’ Project Nature property
You’re not done outside yet. Take off those skis, and join your friends or co-workers to whirl down Treetops’ always-busy tubing hill.
In spring and summer, golf starts in late-April, depending on the weather. Treetops’ Rick Smithdesigned course is rated the Number One Par 3 links in North America. The resort’s four other courses are 18 holes, including ones designed by pro legend Tom Fazio and another by Robert Trent Jones Sr., who, when he was designing the course named The Masterpiece, suggested renaming the resort to Treetops because of the stunning views the hilltop layout afforded. The suggestion was taken.
Treetops can accommodate guests in 232 rooms, all of which underwent remodeling in the last two years. All rooms in what’s called the Inn Hotel were redone, and rooms in the Lodge Hotel saw everything from bathroom freshening to complete redos. In addition to those, there are about 30 available chalet units and about 30 more condos available.
Otsego Resort Goes Public
Just a few miles away from Treetops is Otsego Resort, now owned and operated by locals Gary and Kathie Vollmar since August, reports Michelle Norton, resort director of sales and marketing.
“They’re extremely excited about the property and taking ownership of the resort to again make it an integral part of the community,” she says.
It opened in 1939 and now caters to the public after a long stint as a members-only facility. It’s known for its eclectic architecture, outstanding recreation in both winter and summer, and excellent rooms for both meeting and sleeping.
“Our Special Events Center is 5,200 square feet, and we can accommodate 320 in a banquet setting,” Norton says. “We also have additional meeting rooms that can accommodate from five to 120.”
Its dining areas, the intimate Pontresina Restaurant, which can also hold private meetings during the day, and which recently received a Wine Spectator Magazine Award of Excellence, plus the Duck Blind Grille, stand ready to serve
“There’s a magical feel to the property, which has a Bavarian look. It is at the top of our ski area that has a spectacular 27-mile vista view overlooking the Sturgeon River valley,” she says.
In winter, Otsego Resort sports a great downhill ski area, much of which is hidden from view of the main lodge. That location makes skiers often feel they’re on their own private runs. That feeling fits right in to the atmosphere and its an approach Norton says the resort tries to create. “We become your resort, for your event,” she adds.
Lodging options include 80 overnight rooms ranging from hotel-style to deluxe accommodations, and from resort cabins to a townhouse, and the Hilltop Lodge with eight overnight rooms and a large hospitality area.
Winter activities focus on snow. Norton says that Otsego Resort also will arrange for team-building group ski instructions, crosscountry skiing, tubing, snowshoeing, winter rafting, snowmobiling, bonfires, plus charter trips to area casinos, specialty shopping and other fun.
In summer, the “what to do” category changes to include its two 18-hole golf courses, The Tribute and The Classic, group golf instruction, fishing trips on either Lakes Michigan or Huron, both of which are barely an hour away, area inland lakes, and trout rivers like the famed Pigeon, Sturgeon and Au Sable.
There are venues for smaller corporate meetings as well, including homes managed by Sandra Mattingly of Pine Cone Accommodations. She has under contract or owns 26 individual units throughout the Gaylord area. The two largest each sleep 16 and, she says, are used often for corporate retreats. Mattingly provides catered meals and cleaning services upon request.
The new Holiday Inn Express can host up to 70 people for meetings, says Julie Allen, area director of sales. While there are in-house dining options, Allen will work with any caterer.
The Fairfield Inn, which opened in 2017, added 83 rooms to the region’s bed count, says General Manager Eileen Tussey. Amenities include a lobby bar, fitness center, saltwater pool, electric car charging station and complementary breakfast
The Ellison Place, located on Gaylord’s south side just off I-75, is, at 30,000 square feet, the state’s largest meeting space between metro Detroit and Marquette (the Superior Dome there has it beat), boasts Diane Bartow, general manager.
Located in the building that formerly housed Jay’s Sporting goods—it moved into larger quarters a mile north—it underwent a total remodel and has hosted everything from RV and boat shows, to trade meetings, weddings and other events for two years now.
Groups from Detroit and Grand Rapids, to Traverse City and Alpena have filled the space, with events now being booked two years in advance, Bartow says.
“It used to be that I’d have to drive to Grand Rapids or Traverse City to attend a large show. Now it can be done in our backyard,” she adds. “We’re thrilled to give Northern Michigan something like this that draws so many. Because we’re so centrally located this is the perfect spot for events. We’re easy to find with lots of parking. A large glass garage door makes it easy to bring in large displays.”
It’s pretty easy to see why Gaylord is a great up north meeting place, whether it’s for seven or several hundred.
>> Gaylord was named after an attorney for the Jackson, Lansing & Saginaw Railroad and was named the Otsego County seat in 1877.
>> Gaylord’s sister city is Pontresina, Switzerland.
>> The city’s largest summer event is the mid-July Alpenfest, celebrating its “Alpine City” nickname, and carrying on a Swiss tradition of the “Burning of the Boogg” downtown. Anyone who wishes to leave their troubles behind can place slips of paper with what’s vexing them inside the oversized human caricature, then watch them go up in smoke when the boogg burns.
>> Gaylord sits on the 45th parallel, halfway between the equator and North pole. In winter, it’s blessed with lots of snow, much of it moisture lifted off Lake Michigan and deposited in the hills and vales surrounding the city.
>> Gaylord is surrounded by 15 golf courses, earning the city its “Golf Mecca” moniker.
>> The city’s Aspen Park has a 1.8-mile paved trail system and 10K single-track trail for mountain biking, hiking and cross-country skiing. Its trails run along and adjacent to Elk Park, home of more than 70 elk available for public viewing. Other notable nearby trails hosting hikers in summer and skiers and snowshoers in winter include the Pine Baron Pathway and the Shingle Mill Pathway. Otsego State Park occupies part of Otsego Lake’s beachfront south of town off Old U.S. 27.
>> 2018 marked the 100th anniversary of the reintroduction of elk to Michigan’s 105,000-acre Pigeon River Country State Forest, just north of Gaylord. Upwards of 1,300 elk now inhabit the forest.