It’s time for a changing of the guard at a Grand Marais wilderness guiding service.
After years of working for and with local outfitters in Cook County, Mike Bartz’s trajectory changed five years ago when he decided to branch out on his own. Catering mainly to the visitors who wanted a taste of the wilderness without an overnight stay, his Border Lakes Guide Service began showing customers the Northwoods. Gaining traction through word-of-mouth referrals, Bartz guided groups of all comfort and experience levels to see the beauty of Rose Lake, Horseshoe Lake, Round Lake, Caribou Lake, and many more.
As more time passed with Bartz running the business predominately solo, he began to feel the weight of carrying more than just the canoes on his shoulders. After guiding about 500 individuals into the wilderness, he began to entertain the opportunities that arose to sell the company. After a bit of conversation, Bartz came to an agreement with prospective new owners.
“I’m really happy to see these young people grab this opportunity,” said Bartz. “It’ll allow them to stay in the Grand Marais area, which is what they want to do. They’re going to take it to the next level, but they have a really good base to work from.”
The passing of the paddle is officially underway. To ensure a smooth transition, the outgoing and incoming groups are spending time together both in the office and on the water. Bartz is passing along his knowledge of the routes, area flora and fauna, regional history of the area, and Indigenous culture.
The new ownership team includes two individuals from Grand Marais, Matea Acero and Sean MacDonell, and Jacob Rachuy of Hastings, Minn. Beyond camping, canoeing and being young entrepreneurs, they also spend their time biking, skiing, hunting, gardening, cooking and making Northwoodsy art.
“We have years of experience in the service and guiding industries in the Grand Marais area and pride ourselves on knowing almost every lake and backroad in the county,” explains MacDonell. “We want people of all ages, backgrounds and skill levels to find a way to enjoy the outdoors and see the value in preserving land for outdoor recreation.”
As with Bartz, the incoming owners want to help facilitate the connections to the land that ultimately encourage people to protect the wild spaces. Of course, new energy brings about the likelihood of some changes as well. The new leadership comes with their own approach and preferences as they embrace the control of the company.
“We’re looking forward to bringing our own guiding style to the table without compromising on the quality of trips. We’ll be calling ourselves Border Lakes Tour Company to better reflect the direction we plan on moving in,” says MacDonell. “This summer we will continue to focus on canoeing and hiking tours, but already have other activities and guided tours in the works for next summer.”
The newly-minted Border Lakes Tour Company is focused on positive experiences that instill confidence in guests to keep returning to nature and the wild. They welcome anyone who wants to spend a day in the outdoors, especially families with kids. They recognize that each person comes to the northland with different expectations, goals and hopes. For them, creating smiles, encouraging a new worldview, and personalizing each trip are keys to success.
“Kids are so curious about the world around them, and we love to leave younger generations with lasting impressions of this place. Hopefully, they’ll come back to do overnight trips, attend summer camps, and really come to value this area,” explains MacDonell. “Whether a group wants a bit of a challenge or to sit back and enjoy the sights, we do our best to give them the outdoors experience that helps that particular group connect with the outdoors in the way that’s best for them.”
Beyond their excitement about taking customers on adventures, MacDonell, Acero and Rachuy are also looking forward to developing partnerships with other businesses in the area. They hope that other local entrepreneurs will reach out with ideas about how they can be more inclusive or create opportunities.
Learn more about the Border Lakes Tour Company and book a trip at: borderlakestourcompany.com.