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Starting fifth decade, Wilderness Presidential Resort using adventure to lure locals
PANDEMIC BOOST INTEREST IN OUTDOOR PLAY

Starting fifth decade, Wilderness Presidential Resort using adventure to lure locals

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When Wilderness Presidential Resort opened its doors four decades ago in Spotsylvania County, the only way to join was purchasing a lot for a camper or RV.

Kicking off its 41st season this spring, the 621-acre resort is diversifying its offerings at a time when the pandemic has pushed more people to find outdoor recreation. The resort wants to accommodate them, and has started a shift to attract and entertain visitors along with property owners.

To that end, the owners have added amenities and activities designed to bring in more day-users.

Eric Sylvester, the resort’s director of operations, said a big focus recently has been creating a range of activities and amenities to draw new visitors, especially those who live locally.

Those activities include a treetop ropes course called The Wilderness Adventure Park and a climbing wall called Goliath’s Ladder. There is an escape room, a redesigned and expanded 18-hole disc golf course, an 18-hole mini-golf course and a lakeside Wilderness Marina that offers paddleboards, kayaks and other watercraft for exploring and fishing.

And there are activities to go along with the amenities. Sylvester hopes to draw crowds with events like disc golf tournaments, wine-and-dine painting classes, visits from food and beer trucks and an annual Wild Roots music festival. He said attracting more locals is a priority.

“We get people who come in for some of these new programs, especially for things like the Adventure Park, where it isn’t necessary to buy a day-use pass to the resort, and say they never knew about what we offer here,” he said. “Some have ridden by us for years thinking we’re just a housing development.”

Sylvester said the resort also focuses on getting visitors to rent one of nearly 80 rustic-looking but modern cabins of different types. There are newly added lakefront cabins that sleep six, as well as newly refurbished one- and two-story cottages, some so close to the water you could fish off their decks. There are also camping spaces for tents or trailers.

Because Wilderness is affiliated with Resorts Condominiums International, many of the visitors who come to the Spotsylvania County attraction are timeshare owners. And there are still visitors who own lots in the resort.

Amy Rogers, the resort’s director of business development, estimated that on a busy weekend in the summer, there might be several thousand guests and day-use visitors at the resort. Many are drawn to the three swimming pools and lakeside beach area. Others like to fish in for bass and crappie in the stocked lakes.

Rogers highlighted the new cabins that feature lots of gleaming pine and amenities that include televisions and full Wi-Fi. Some even have hot tubs.

She said one of the recently updated amenities that’s become popular is a disc golf course expanded from nine to 18 holes, with design help from the Spotsylvania Disc Golf Club.

“We’ve got our first big disc golf tournament set for May,” said Rogers. “I didn’t realize how big this sport is for many folks, as we’ve got people coming in every day to use it.”

She said many of the visitors who came last fall and this spring were drawn by the chance to exercise and have fun outside, where they could find space and safety as COVID-19 threatened.

Two families from Fairfax County visited the resort last week for those very reasons. They had adjoining cabins by one of the lakes, and had enjoyed miniature golf, taking walks and biking.

“We just wanted a safe place to let the kids get outside and enjoy nature,” said Melanie Spearman.

Sylvester said COVID benefitted the resort by bringing in a crowd of customers, but presented a challenge to keep customers and staff protected.

“We ended up putting together care packets for our visitors that included hand wipes, face masks, hand sanitizer and more. And we closed some shared spaces to keep everyone protected.”

Rob Hedelt: 540/374-5415

rhedelt@freelancestar.com

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Here for more than four decades, I'm a feature columnist out and about seeing what people are thinking and sharing what interesting things they're doing.

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