SHERIDAN — Many small business owners know the feeling of always being on the job. Homeowners understand that homes require constant maintenance and upkeep. Owners of lodges in the Bighorn Mountains know both of those lifestyles better than most; they live at their businesses and their businesses are home.
The lodges in the Bighorn Mountains operate under special use permits issued through the U.S. Forest Service. The business owners work closely with the USFS on improvements they want to make, new buildings they want to construct or new activities they plan to offer.
“There are definitely some hoops they have to jump through,” said Travis Fack, who administers those permits for the Bighorn National Forest. “But we’re all ensuring that nobody is doing anything to get people hurt.”
Jared and Charlene Severson purchased Arrowhead Lodge in 2016 and have been working to make improvements to the lodge located off Highway 14 west of Dayton.
In purchasing the lodge, they encountered what many homeowners do — maintenance projects that had been neglected. The couple converted the establishment to smoke-free and have been working their way through other projects on the grounds.
The draw of the outdoors along with owning and operating their own business brought the Seversons to the Bighorn Mountains. They love the surrounding communities, the schools and the overwhelming positivity of those who live in the area.
“Have you seen our backyard?” Jared Severson said of the perks of owning and operating a lodge. “Where could you find a better backyard?”
His wife noted the wide variety of people who walk through the lodge’s doors. They’ve had hunters and families from the region, across the country and even from overseas.
Plus, they get to spend each day with their two children, ages 12 and 15.
While the Seversons are fairly new to the mountain lodge industry, Rick and Roberta Young have owned and operated Bear Lodge Resort since 1993 and Elk View Inn since 2010.
The Youngs both grew up in New York. After high school, Rick Young went into the Air Force and his wife attended nursing school. He was stationed in Cheyenne in the 1970s and the couple always talked about coming back to Wyoming.
“After 20 years of the Air Force and traveling, we started looking for a place when we got closer to his retirement,” Roberta Young said. “Some people we knew had seen that Bear Lodge was advertised for sale in a snowmobile magazine.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
Young, like the Seversons, noted that watching guests enjoy the outdoors tops her list of why the job appeals to her.
“The Bighorns are still being discovered,” she said, commenting on the looks of awe many visitors to the area display. “So many people don’t know what’s up here.”
Owning a mountain lodge isn’t all conversations with guests, fishing and snowmobiling, though. It’s hard work.
Maintenance, of course, seems unending. Plus, access to things like fuel and supplies isn’t as simple as a 5-minute drive to the grocery store.
Recruitment and retention of employees can also prove difficult.
While many romanticize the remoteness and idyllic setting, it isn’t for everyone.
While the Seversons said they’ve had luck hanging onto employees they understand that isn’t common in the industry.
“Our goal is to have long-term, year-round employees, but the type of people who apply usually want to travel and experience other places,” Young said. “So there is a constant recruiting, checking of references and retraining.”
In addition, she said, most people don’t think the isolation will bother them, but being away from a town with things like big-box stores and a movie theater can be more of a challenge than many expect.
Plus, Internet connectivity can be spotty. With so many people attached to their smartphones, being away from that can feel even more isolating than the vast open spaces in the Bighorns.
Jared Severson said while Arrowhead Lodge has satellite internet enabling them to communicate with friends and family, their children may not be as connected as their peers.
Despite the fact that the challenges of homeownership and business ownership get tied into one, maintenance-required package, neither family indicated they’d like to live any differently.
In fact, while Bear Lodge is currently listed for sale, it’s not because the Youngs want to move away from the Bighorns. In fact, they plan to move over to Elk View Inn, which while smaller than Bear Lodge, would still require time and attention.
But, you can’t beat those views.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the Fall/Winter edition of Destination Sheridan, which published in October.