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WisBusiness: Couple turns longtime camping site into successful B&B

By Brian E. Clark
For WisBusiness.com

When Dave and Trudy Holdener bought 42 acres in the Baraboo Hills back in 1981, they had no inkling that they would one day open a B&B and corporate retreat on the site.

Back then, they used the land – which offers a sweeping view of Devil's Lake and the surrounding terrain – as a camping retreat. And over the years, scores of friends camped there with them.

“When it came time to leave on Sunday afternoon, people couldn’t stop thanking us for sharing this beautiful spot with them,” said Trudy, a former Lufthansa flight attendant and native of Germany who moved to the United States at age 6.

“So when we were getting ready to build a home here more than a decade ago, we realized that if we couldn’t camp with our friends here anymore, we’d be losing the best part,” she said. “It would be too lonely.”

About the same time, they stayed in a B&B near Mountain, on the Upper Peninsula border, which is where Dave started the Nicolet Forest Bottling Co. Though he calls the Baraboo Hills home, he spends several days a week in Mountain when he is not on the road.

“That visit put the B&B idea in our heads,” she said.

The result is the Inn at Wawanissee Point, which means “beautiful view” in the Ho Chunk language. The three-story, 10,000-square-foot structure, which can best be described as a cross between a Mediterranean villa and a mountain lodge, has four guest rooms.  It cost more than $1 million to build.

The cabinetwork, inlays, doors, crown moldings, stairwell, barrel roofs and other craftwork was done by Trudy’s dad, Alois, a Bavarian master cabinet maker; and Dave’s brother, Richard, also a master cabinet maker.

“We camped up here for 16 years before we started construction,” said Dave, who once worked for Hilton Hotels on the food and beverage side. “It was shortly after we started construction that we began to take the necessary steps to apply for the B&B licensing.”

With a background in the hospitality industry, it wasn’t too much of a stretch for the Holdeners to think they could run an inn. So they took a course or two and dove in.

“People tried to talk us out of it, but we were fairly determined,” he said. “We don’t regret it a bit. It’s been a great ride.”

The B&B has been open for five years, attracting travelers from all over the world, as well as small business groups who use the state-of-the-art communications equipment in the Lombardi Conference Room. It can hold 10 to and has Ethernet or Wi-Fi DSL, a fax, shredder, wet bar, break station, a 40-inch plasma screen and other high-tech features.

The couple has kept a “quite a low profile for the inn, some of that intentionally and also because we depend on the Internet,” said Dave, who lives at the inn with his wife.  The couple, both in their late 50s, run the B&B themselves, with occasional help from their children.

But business has been steady, though the economy has prompted people to make more last-minute trip decisions, Dave said. And recently, the inn seems to have been discovered, with stories in several regional business and lifestyle publications.

He said the majority of the inn’s visitors are couples who come up from the spring through the fall for a two- or three-night getaway. Often, travelers go to the Wollersheim Winery for a tour, to nearby Devil’s Lake State Park for hiking, swimming or boating; or they might go for a stroll in Parfrey’s Glen Natural Area, which borders the inn property.

Guests also come during the winter to ski or snowboard nearby at Devil’s Head, go cross-country skiing in the park or snowshoeing on the inn’s three miles of private trails.

“It’s just as spectacular in the winter as it is in the summer,” he said. "You have to see it to appreciate how lovely it is."

Rates start at $250 a night, though corporate mid-week rates are about $20 a night lower, he said. For more information on the inn, go to http://www.innatwawanisseepoint.com.

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