Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake, Northeast Ohio’s crown jewel, faces uncertain state-controlled future

GENEVA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ohio – Left my office at 3 a.m., took a bike ride at 4, floated in the pool at 5.

And at 6 a.m., I was sipping wine at an outdoor table overlooking Lake Erie.

There’s no easier or more welcoming overnight option so close to Cleveland than the Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake in far northeast Ohio.

Have been here several times in the 17 years since it opened, but a quick trip in mid-September served as a timely reminder. This place is special and the state needs to make sure it stays that way.

A last-minute addition to the state budget this summer included a provision that transfers ownership of the Ashtabula County lodge to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources in 2022.

Currently, the Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake, which is inside the 698-acre Geneva State Park, is the only one of the nine lodges in Ohio State Park that does not belong to not to the state.

Built in 2004 by Ashtabula County, the lodge has been touted as the key to the growth of the region’s nascent tourism industry.

Although controversial at the time, the lodge largely lived up to its billing. This is arguably the nicest state park lodge in the system, with well-maintained facilities, an excellent restaurant, and plenty of activities on or near the property.

It attracts the highest occupancy rates of any Ohio Park lodge and the most expensive rates, well above $ 200 per night on most weekends.

Will all of that change when the state takes over ownership of the facility next year? Probably not, at least not immediately. But local tourism officials are right to remain engaged while the transfer of ownership is negotiated.

Indoor and outdoor pools side by side at the Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake in Ashtabula County.Susan Glaser, cleveland.com

Lodge in Geneva-sur-le-Lac

Free bicycles available to guests at the Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake.Susan Glaser, cleveland.com

Lodge in Geneva-sur-le-Lac

Al fresco dining at the Horizons restaurant at the Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake.Susan Glaser, cleveland.com

Lodge in Geneva-sur-le-Lac

Lobby at the Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake in Ashtabula County.Susan Glaser, cleveland.com

State buyout to come

Several Ashtabula County elected officials backed the transfer, eager to save local taxpayers up to $ 14 million in remaining construction debt that the state will now absorb. The county should never have been in the accommodation business in the first place, they argue.

However, many local tourism and government officials fear that state ownership will ultimately result in property that is not as good looking and is not as suited to the local market.

Read more: Surprise proposal to transfer Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake to state control sparks opposition from tourism officials

“The lodge has been the source of much of the economic development that has taken place here,” said Donniella Winchell, executive director of the Ohio Wine Producers Association, which is headquartered near Geneva. “They push us all to be better. “

Winchell is part of a local group that has met in recent months to make recommendations for moving the lodge. Among the group’s priorities: Maintain Delaware North as the lodge operator.

Winchell credits Delaware North, which also operates properties in Yellowstone and Yosemite National Parks and many others, for helping develop the property into the resort it is – by partnering with local wineries and other businesses, funding upgrades when the state or county couldn’t afford them, adding amenities to entertain customers.

The Buffalo, NY-based company has managed the resort since 2004 and its contract runs until 2026, with two five-year renewal options. Another company, South Dakota-based US Hotel & Resort Management, operates the state’s other eight lodges and will run Hocking Hills State Park Lodge when it opens in 2022.

Ashtabula County Commissioner JP Ducro said he was optimistic the state and county can come to a deal that works for everyone.

Among its priorities: ensuring the property is able to reinvest the income from county tax revenue and the lodge’s $ 13 per night resort fee so it doesn’t get scattered across the state. “We want to make sure that these funds are used for this property, to keep it in the exceptional condition for which it is known,” he said.

Sarah Wickham, spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said it was too early to comment on the results of the Geneva property transfer.

“We are still collecting information on all the different contracts and obligations involved in the transaction,” she said. “The General Assembly has asked us to go ahead with a purchase and we will do our best to meet statutory deadlines.”

Lodge in Geneva-sur-le-Lac

The resort comprises 109 hotel rooms and 25 two-bedroom cottages.

Lodge in Geneva-sur-le-Lac

Bicycle path through the woods at Geneva State Park in Ashtabula County.Susan Glaser, cleveland.com

Lodge in Geneva-sur-le-Lac

Kayaking on Cowles Creek at the Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake.Susan Glaser, cleveland.com

Rediscover the resort

Many of the people I spoke to on my recent stay were unaware of the current ownership controversy. Several were making their first visit to the property. Many had never been to another Ohio State Park lodge.

I have stayed in almost all of the others, including several last year. I’m a huge fan of our state park pavilions – they feature impressive architecture in a beautiful setting, with pools, restaurants, and other amenities.

While popular in the summer and fall weekends, lodges are underrated by most Ohioans and under-marketed by the state. In some cases, they haven’t received the maintenance they deserve.

The Lodge at Genève-sur-le-Lac, with 109 rooms and 25 cottages, has been most successful in part due to its less isolated location, within walking distance of the summer tourist town of Genève-sur-le- Lake and in the heart of the state’s most prolific and well-known wine region.

But it has also been successful thanks to the involvement of the local community and the stewardship of Delaware North, which has invested money in this property and is marketing it extensively.

Geneva has by far the best restaurant of all the other lodges I have been to recently. And it has most on-site amenities, including a zipline tour, rental kayaks, free bikes, bocce, shuffleboard, swimming pools, winter sports equipment, and wine shuttles. which operate almost continuously on weekends.

A weekend at the lodge

On my recent trip to Geneva, I took advantage of a lot of what the property has to offer.

When I arrived – a beautiful Friday afternoon in September – I grabbed a free bike and cycled the 2 miles west to the edge of Geneva National Park, stopping briefly to walk on Breakwater Beach and put my feet in Lake Erie for the last time maybe. year.

After my bike ride, I put on my swimsuits and headed for the outdoor pool, where I had the water to myself until I was joined by a couple from Mansfields, celebrating their 20th anniversary.

I was out of the water in time to meet my husband, who was driving from Akron. We sat outside at the Horizons Restaurant, where we watched a wedding rehearsal in the nearby gazebo while enjoying a glass of Ferrante Riesling and a plate of chicken marsala.

Later that evening, we joined the wedding group around a common fire pit and toasted marshmallows (free). This was the only disappointment of the evening. Marshmallows roasted on a gas fire are not gooey enough.

In the morning, we got back on bikes and headed to Genève-sur-le-Lac for breakfast, to the Sunrise Café, where “most meals come with a free side of sarcasm and a bunch of occasional abuse ‘(and where the corned beef hash is highly recommended). We grabbed a few takeout donuts from Madsen’s before heading back to the lodge.

I noticed a homemade “Do not give the pavilion” sign on a front fence in town as I was cycling by.

Before heading out we rented a tandem kayak ($ ​​35 per hour) for a very relaxing paddle on Cowles Creek, a sleepy tributary that flows north into Lake Erie. The most exciting parts: negotiating under a few fallen trees, being rocked by the waves coming down from the lake (we were advised to stay out of the lake) and watching the ziplines scream above us.

After leaving our room, we drove south past Geneva, stopping at two historic covered bridges in the area: Harpersfield, built in 1868, and Mechanicsville Road, a year older, both straddling the scenic river. Big.

Then we headed west along the river for a wine tasting, stopping first at Laurello Vineyards and then at Hundley Cellars, where I bought my only souvenirs from this trip.

I returned home about 24 hours after arriving, at the end of an effortless and very enjoyable day. Here’s hoping it stays that way.

Lodge in Geneva-sur-le-Lac

A sign in town expresses its support for the Loge de Genève-sur-le-Lac.Susan Glaser, cleveland.com

Lodge in Geneva-sur-le-Lac

Sunset over Lake Erie at the Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake.Susan Glaser, cleveland.com

Read more:

The new Hocking Hills State Park Lodge, with 81 rooms for the night, is expected to open in October 2022

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