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One of the Leonard family's newly completed lake homes, which they are planning to sell. Connie Vandermay/FOCUS

Dent resort featured in new book

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East Silent Lake Resort, nestled on 50 peaceful acres just outside of Dent, has been featured in the new book, "Resorts of Minnesota."

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One of just 37 resorts chosen for inclusion in the book, it is the only one from Otter Tail County.

The book's author, Neil Johnson of Hibbing, Minn., said he selected East Silent Lake Resort because he could easily see himself taking his own family of six there. The owners "have a real strong vision and a great guest experience," Johnson said.

The Leonard family - parents Brian and Margaret, and sons Nick and Andy - became the sixth owners of East Silent Lake Resort when they purchased it in 2006. The resort was established in 1915.

In an interview with Nick and Andy last week, the two talked about some of the resort's features, including miniature pony rides, a miniature donkey named Nacho, hiking and biking trails and plenty of water activities.

The Leonards provide daily adventures for kids: sandcastle contests, arts and crafts, a waterslide, and a 'human launch pad' on the lake. They offer social events for all the guests, such as morning pontoon rides complete with coffee and doughnuts, ice cream socials and farewell barbeques.

But it's more than the activities that make East Silent Lake Resort unique. It's their business plan, too.

Nick said lake property in the past decade has skyrocketed in value. This fact, along with the fact that resorts operate at full capacity for just a few months out the year, have many resort owners selling the high-valued land and leaving the resort business behind.

Resorts are a dwindling thing, according to exploreminnesota.com. From 2009 to 2010, there have been 27 resort closures - the highest annual drop in an eight-year history. There are now 887 resorts, down from 914.

Despite the trend, the Leonards are passionate about keeping the resort experience around for generations to come. Nick and Andy grew up in Iowa, miles away from any lake, and as young boys they lived for their week-long resort stays in Otter Tail County, they said.

When the opportunity arose to purchase a resort, the Leonards worked together to make it happen. At least one member of the family is at the lake year-round for hosting, though they all have other full-time careers: Andy is a professor of aviation at South Dakota State University, Nick is a professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota in Morris, and Brian and Margaret own a funeral home in Iowa.

In order to avoid the fate of so many other resorts, the Leonard's business plan includes some lake homes up the hill from their resort property. Interested people can purchase part or all of these lake homes, while receiving resort benefits like lawn care and home maintenance. Owners can even work with the resort to rent out sections of their home when they're not using it.

Nick said it's one way for someone to own a home on the lake without having to deal with the headache of maintaining the grounds or the home.

"Resorts of Minnesota" isn't meant to be a tour guide, Johnson said. Rather, it explores the history and traditions of Minnesota family-run resorts.

Johnson spent a year researching resorts, trying to locate the oldest and the newest from south to north.

His initial list had close to 100 'potential' resorts on it, before he narrowed it down to the final cut. East Silent Lake Resort, he said, was chosen for its unique history and the vision it passes down to all its guests.

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