White Pines Resort closes due to pandemic

The historic lodge located inside White Pines State Park was constructed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
The historic lodge located inside White Pines State Park was constructed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Beth George’s two children, Chad and Lindsey, grew up in her back office at White Pines Resort.

They watched TV while their mother worked. They worked different jobs at the resort as they got older.

Those are among George’s favorite memories of her 31 years as concessionaire at White Pines Resort.

On May 13, George, White Pines Resort owner and concessionare announced she is filing for bankruptcy and closing after 31 years due to losses of revenue from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The resort operates March to December and consists of a restaurant, dinner theater, cabins and a gift shop.

The buildings that house the businesses are owned by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.

George posted a video on Facebook to make the announcement and say goodbye.

“I want to just tell you that I never thought I’d be saying these words,” George said. “For 31 years I’ve run that resort and put my heart and soul into it. I’m going to be one of the statistics that don’t make it. I’m smart enough to know the numbers just won’t work to reopen.”

George, who grew up in Mt. Morris, said in the video that the Governor’s reopening plan that was unveiled last week was the “nail in the coffin” of her business.

The Facebook post was shared nearly 8,000 times and commented on nearly 2,000 times.

“The outpouring of support was totally and utterly overwhelming,” George said in an interview on May 14. “I’ve been blown away. It’s been very heartfelt and I’ve been having a hard time even looking at them. Hundreds are from brides that were married there.”

George stopped counting weddings at 1,200 a few years ago. Her record for weddings in a year was 93.

George said she’ll be filing for bankruptcy in “a few weeks” after she can repay the brides and guests that have made deposits.

After her announcement, multiple GoFundMe pages emerged with hopes to save the resort. One had nearly $17,000 donated as of Tuesday afternoon.

But George said the resort can’t be saved, regardless of any amount raised. She would only use that money to pay back brides and guests she owes.

“I wouldn’t ever want that responsibility on my shoulders,” George said. “I don’t ask for handouts. If the state goes bankrupt, the parks will close. There’s just so much uncertainty. It was unbelievable to see people try. I don’t even know them. It’s magical at White Pines and that’s why the outpouring has been like that.”

White Pines Resort employs 40-55 seasonal employees, all of which will now be out of work.

George has been residing in Costa Rica with her two children who also have tourism-based businesses there.

She said she did apply for payroll protection through the federal CARES Act, but couldn’t use it due to not being open during the eight weeks it consisted of. All she ended up doing was incurring another loan.

Local municipalities like Oregon and Polo have helped their small businesses with applying for loans through state and local programs.

White Pines Resort is located in unincorporated Ogle County who is in the process of starting a program to help businesses.

George said she never talked to the county about assistance and said she doesn’t deal with them much due to being located inside a state park.

She said she has $18,000-$20,000 in expenses per month, while closed. She did notify the state and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources of her situation before making her decision to close.

“We reached out to the state and said we won’t be able to be there if we can’t open by June 1,” George said. “But they said there was nothing they could do. They did defer our rent. Us telling them that wasn’t a threat.”

The IDNR did purchase assets of the business like beds and restaurant equipment, which will make a future concessionaire taking over more likely, George said.

A new concessionaire won’t have to purchase expensive assets.

“They bought so much,” George said. “They’re only paying me dimes on the dollars of what I have, but it saves work for my staff moving and selling things.”

To become the next concessionaire, a person would have to apply to be on a bidders list for when the lease is eventually put out to bid by the state. George is unsure when that will happen, but believes it may be after the pandemic situation passes.

George nearly sold her lease to the resort last year. The family all but purchased it and decided after 10 weeks that it wasn’t for them.

“The financial impact of that was terrible for me,” George said. “It set me back a lot. I spent seven months training them.”

George has more fond memories than watching her kids grow up at White Pines. She built relationships.

One couple planned to come and stay this year for their 50th consecutive year. She loved starting the dinner theater at a time when most people thought the resort only did breakfast.

“I don’t do drugs, but nothing got me higher than watching an audience die laughing at a performance,” George said.

“Everything ends. I almost sold it last year. I just never thought it’d end like this.”

(Turn to page 9 to read about how the resort’s going out of business sale was closed down on Monday.)