Harbor Country News
Lakeside Cabins a Family Friendly Resort
By Kate Sheridan, September 2007
THREE OAKS — When it comes to the Lakeside Cabins Resort lifestyle, Tim O’Neil is a man who lives what he loves, and practices what he preaches.
The former camp counselor and father of three is one of the creators and developers of the park-model cabin-camping community at the former Bob-A-Ron Camp-ground on Warren Woods Road in Chikaming Township.
The development’s current success, and its positive future prospects, led the O’Neil brothers, Tim and Ted, to buy the old bean fields adjacent to the campground site. They recently won approval from Chikaming Township planners to proceed with plans to develop that parcel – nearly 80 additional acres – into even more and larger sites for the popular park-model trailers.
The O’Neils and their families are also all-summer residents of the 135-cabin owner-occupied resort, and the chief cheerleaders for the old-fashioned family-vacation life-style that Lakeside Cabins not only offers – but actively promotes.
“It’s what I was looking for when I was looking for a vacation retreat for my own family,” Tim O’Neil said. “We’d been cominghere to visit for a few years, and realized the housing in this area was just too expensive for most young families – $350,000 for a starter home was just too much.”
By contrast, a 3,500-square-foot lot and a 400-square-foot park-model cedar-sided cabin nestled into the scenic beauty of rural Chikaming Township at Lakeside Cabins Resorts will cost the owner about $100,000 to $130,000, O’Neil said.
“If they want to, the homeowners can build on an additional 200-foot sleeping loft or an additional 400-square-foot screened-in porch,” he notes.
The campground resort is fully equipped with water, sewer, electric and cable service. A $1,500 annual association fee takes care of all maintenance costs. The association owns the land, while the homeowner owns the cabin.
A family vacation in the Fort Wilderness park-model cabins in Florida clarified for Tim O’Neil exactly what he wanted to develop.
“I wanted to recreate the old-fashioned way of life,” he said, pointing out that families may “live” in their vacation homes up to 180 days each year.
“Think of the 1950s vacation resorts, with a lot of activities, swimming, canoeing and fishing in the lake, and a big emphasis on doing things outdoors.”
Outdoors or indoors, there’s always something going on at Lakeside Cabins Resort. Each summer weekend has a theme such as Fear Factor Weekend, High School Musical Weekend and Wild West Weekend. And each has a wide assortment of fun activities to match.
O’Neil said he relies a lot on his three youngsters – aged 14, 12 and 7 – to devise ideas for and “put on” the weekend parties and special events for youngsters at the resort. There’ve been pirate shows and beach parties and lodge dances, along with the more typical pool-side activities and lots of sporting events.
“The kids can relate to other kids so much better than an adult always doing it for them,” he said. “It’s like kids having parties for other kids. But we’ve got plenty of things for adults to do as well.”
Most of the Lakeside Cabins resorters – nearly two-thirds of them – are families with children, and about 85 percent come to Lakeside to retreat from the Chicago area. Another 20-25 percent are empty-nesters, with the remainder singles and couples, O’Neil said.
Jamie Nick of Bolingbrook, Ill., has spent two summers at Lakeside Cabins Resort, and she said it’s been a wonderful experience for her 2- 1/2-year-old son, Jacob, and Jack, who will turn 5 next month.
“They know every kid here. It’s amazing, it’s such a family atmosphere it’s just tremendous,” she said.
In addition to the hilly, wooded campsites, Lakeside Cabins offers two heated pools, a sprawling lodge with a game room for the rainy days, community fire pits, a full-court basketball court and a Riverfront Nature Trail that passes through an undeveloped, wooded area en route to the Galien River.
There’s the familiar shuffleboard and playground, plus four acres of volleyball, soccer and baseball fields. Every other weekend, O’Neil hosts a community dinner in the resort’s big pavilion, complete with management-provided hot dogs, burgers and brats.
At night, both youngsters and parents settle down to relax in front of a crackling campfire, served up beneath a canopy of starlit skies. That’s a built-in bonus that most of the part-time cabin owners say they can’t get in their at-home city life, O’Neil noted.
Tammy Hernandez of Bartlett, Ill., who spent part of her Labor Day holiday at the complex’s main swimming pool, said her family bought a cabin this year.
“We love it here because we have two boys and there’s so many activities going on all the time,” she said. “There’s crafts, there’s swimming. We go boating and fishing. So it’s not just where we come and they sit and play Nintendo all day. They actually get to enjoy all the outdoors.”
To make his dream of an affordable, family-friendly, small-town resort possible, O’Neil and his brother, Ted – both Dayton, Ohio, natives – bought the campground four years ago and retained the campground license. That restricts cabin owners to a 180-day annual stay, but makes the resort affordable for “a lot of people who otherwise wouldn’t consider it,” he said.
With 260 cabin sites currently available, Lakeside Cabins Resort is about 40 percent occupied and is “growing steadily” as word spreads about its accessible cost and unique lifestyle, he noted.
The expansion, which could break ground next year, will more than double the current size of the site. The homeowner’s association will hold about 120 acres when the development is completed.
“Less beans, more trees” is how Tim O’Neil put it when describing his plans for the site last week. When completed, Lakeside Resort Cabins will have sites for about 380 cabins, with nearly half of the site’s acreage left as undeveloped, natural land. The site plan also includes a 2.8-acre natural pond.
“The new area has been lightly farmed through the years and does not have many interior trees,” he said. “We’d like less beans, more trees, so we’ll begin planting trees as soon as we can. We won’t touch the ravines at all, because that’s what people come out here for, to enjoy the natural setting and great outdoors,” he said.
An eight-acre natural berm separating the new resort section from Warren Woods Road will ensure the development remains “seclu-ded” and unnoticed from drivers passing by along the road, O’Neil said.
The new section will add sites for up to 162 cedar-sided park-model cabins. Each site will have its own propane tank, private and buried electricity and cable, access to the development’s water system and private sewer system built to MDEQ requirements, O’Neil said. Each unit is also equipped with a backflow preventer to protect the cabin from water back-up in the event of unusually heavy rainfall.
The O’Neils also plan to build a second lodge, a third pool, additional picnic shelters and pavilions in the new section.
For second homeowners who can’t get away to their retreat as often as they’d like, Lakeside Cabins offers a management service that will rent the cabin out to other resorters during the weeks and weekends the owner can’t be present, O’Neil noted.
The resort allows unit rentals between May 1 and Oct. 31, and is always fully booked in season, O’Neil points out. Between Mem-orial Day and Labor Day, when demand is greatest, the resort asks for a three-night minimum stay that runs between $600 and $700. Cabins can also be rented by the week, and will cost about $900 to $1,100.
“This is what we’ve always wanted to do,” O’Neil said. “And this is such a beautiful area. It’s perfect for anyone who enjoys cabin living, enjoys camping, enjoys the outdoors. Just perfect.”
– David Johnson contributed to this report