Even the great outdoors have their fair share of comforts.
Charlie Brooks is the innkeeper at The Nature Inn at Bald Eagle, a hotel that combines the best parts of nature (bird watching, boating, trees) with the amenities of the great indoors (televisions, furniture, pastries).
In addition to making restaurant recommendations and making sure that breakfast is served hot in the morning, Brooks and his staff are the intermediaries between their guests and the expanse of natural wonders lurking just outside the doors in Bald Eagle State Park.
Below, Brooks talks about the unique challenges of running an inn in the heart of a state park.
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Q: Is summer your busiest season? Do most people come from Centre County or out of town?
A: Summer is indeed our busiest season in terms of sheer numbers of guests staying at the inn with the express purpose of utilizing the park’s vast available resources for an action and adventure packed summer vacation. We typically operate at about 85 percent occupancy from mid-June through the end of August. Those visitors come from across Pennsylvania ... and neighboring states, primarily Ohio, New Jersey, New York, Maryland and Connecticut. We do host an unexpectedly higher number of overnight guests from within 50 miles than I would have anticipated. One interesting trend that we’ve seen over the past couple of years are locals coming out for a Sunday stay and still able to make it in to work by midmorning on Monday.
Q: Do you think that people view nature as something of an escape? What’s the satisfaction of getting away from it all?
A: Our state and national parks have long afforded American families with the opportunity to escape their daily routines whether that be in/from the city, suburbs or small town. The availability in Pennsylvania, thanks in large part to Maurice Goddard’s vision and stewardship, of a state park within driving distance (25 miles or less) of everyone’s home means that visiting a state park can range from a simple afternoon getaway to a multiday camping trip. Interestingly, The Nature Inn at Bald Eagle is the first overnight lodge in the vast Pa. state park system and complements an already extensive inventory of primitive and modern campgrounds, camping cottages and yurts.
As a getaway, our Pa. parks provide unrivaled opportunities to immerse ourselves in nature. Having worked in a variety of settings, I have found that guests staying in a state or national park do generally consider the experience especially relaxing and sincerely appreciate the unspoiled setting as contributing to the experience.
Q: Where’s your favorite spot in Bald Eagle State Park — other than the inn?
A: Being on the water here at Bald Eagle State Park is always a good time. In particular, I enjoy the area where Bald Eagle Creek widens out into the lake proper. This area tends to receive less motorized boat traffic and is ideal for paddling, either by kayak or canoe. F.J. Sayers reservoir is unique in that there are no horsepower restrictions for motorboats and permits boating overnight.
Q: What’s the difference between being an innkeeper at a hotel located in a 5,900-square-acre state park and being the innkeeper at, say, a hotel located somewhere along the stretch of East College Avenue in State College?
A: Immediately in and around State College, demand for rooms and hospitality services generally revolves around the university and has its own unique seasonality based in part on the academic calendar, athletics and alumni visitation. Here at Bald Eagle State Park, we’ve had to work hard to create demand outside the peak summer months of June, July and August. We’ve done that primarily by establishing the inn as a unique destination event venue. That event business provides an important base for our shoulder season and winter months.
Other notable differences would be in the area and scope of the guest services we provide. In addition to recommending local places to dine, etc., we are often giving suggestions ranging from tips on how to make the most of a visit to the park to discussing the inn’s numerous green building features.
Q: What’s the most common request that you receive from guests at the inn?
A: Activities, within the park and beyond, and recommendations for local eateries. ... In 2016 we developed a “concierge” app specifically to help our guests plan their stays and take full advantage of what the region has to offer. Currently available on Google Play for Android devices, the “Nature Inn” app takes full advantage of technology to meet customers’ digital expectations as it relates to planning and optimizing their vacations.
There’s also plenty of interest in the park’s network of trails, water-based activities, such as fishing, boating and swimming, and, of course, birding is a perennial favorite.
Q: When you’re running a large-scale operation like a hotel, what’s the biggest challenge to keeping it green?
A: Avoiding complacency. Even with a small, dedicated staff, we must remain vigilant in implementing and exercising our stewardship principles and “green” practices. Whether it’s sorting recyclables, separating food scraps so that they can be composted, expending the nominally more effort to get the full effect of our green seal certified cleaning products, it’s a commitment that must be first and foremost in our daily routines. With time, coming up on six years, that can become a challenge.
Also, through our partnership with the park management and maintenance staff it’s been a challenge to maintain some of the more complex green technologies and building systems that are the cornerstone of the project. Fortunately, we’ve been able to find local contractors and resources with the necessary expertise to ensure that these systems continue to perform as designed.
Q: If you only had one night at the inn, what’s the one activity in the hotel/park that you would make sure you took part in?
A: An early dinner at one of our partner restaurants, maybe the Kitchen Witch in Howard, followed by a full moon paddle on the lake. Follow that up with s’mores back at the inn around the common campfire. Sleep with the guest room windows open and wake to the sound of birds at first light.
If you go
Where: 201 Warbler Way, Howard