Going outside to play: Wildman resorts get people into the outdoors
NIAGARA, Wis. — At a time when the pandemic took a toll on most businesses, 2020 was Wildman Adventure Resort’s busiest year.
“COVID,” Tracy Giordano noted, “drove people into doing outdoor activities.”
And the resort in Niagara and Athelstane in Wisconsin offers a variety of things that can be done outdoors.
The business is owned and operated by Tracy and Sam Giordano, who are from the Waukesha, Wis., area, and Ken and Thea Neumann. Ken Neumann purchased the Wildman Resort in Athelstane about 12 years ago and Tracy Giordano and her husband have been involved for about 10 years, Tracy said.
Tracy Giordano, who has been involved in the hospitality business for a number of years, said she met Ken Neumann through mutual friends. “Ken originally was going to build a Best Western in Crivitz, Wisconsin; a whole sports complex. He asked me to do sales for the hotel, wedding and banquets,” she said.
Neumann had inquired with Wildman about being a sponsor for the place and he ended up purchasing it.
Her children’s interest in whitewater rafting drove her family more into the business.
“They quit all their high school sports and wanted to spend their summers up north here and work for the company,” she said. “It just became where they wanted to be and it really evolved. It became a family business for us. We love it here.”
Her son, Mason, works some weekends primarily as a raft guide. Daughter Madi does everything and serves as her right hand.
“It kind of fit that way, with the kids having an interest in this,” she said.
The Menominee River outpost in Niagara has Bomber’s, a nine-hole golf course established and designed in 1955 by Peter DeBernardi, along with whitewater rafting, paint ball, rock climbing and zip lining.
Bomber’s has a bit of a colorful past, Tracy Giordano said. Rumor is it once had a speakeasy with secret poker games in the basement. One of the doors even has bullet holes. It also used to be a strip club.
“People find that pretty interesting,” she said.
They have several cabins people can rent. Bomber’s bar has refreshments and foods such as pizza that can made quickly for people to enjoy after golfing or rafting. They began serving 51st Brewery tap beer from Kingsford last year and are the only Wisconsin location to offer it, she said.
At the Athelstane location, in addition to rafting, they can house up to 150 people. They have five deluxe cabins, a yurt, five rustic cabins, and camping beside the Peshtigo River.
They have already started the whitewater rafting for the year on the Peshtigo River, taking about 50 people out when they opened for the season April 10, she said.
“It was one of the biggest opening days we’ve had,” Tracy Giordano said. “It was bigger this year because of how warm it was. Usually there’s still snow on the ground.”
She added, “By the end of May I’ll be pretty much up here every weekend. We said goodbye to our weekends. We won’t have another one off until September, probably.”
She doesn’t know when they will start rafting on the Menominee River near Niagara — usually it’s toward the end of May because the water levels are higher.
“The rafting is really what draws people because this is the biggest whitewater in the Midwest, what we have here on Piers Gorge,” Tracy Giordano said.
They run rafts in six different sizes between the two sites, from individual rafts up to the 16-foot rafts.
They have future plans to expand, “but we have a lot going on all the time. It’s tough to keep up. The biggest challenge is the fact that we have all seasonal workers. We don’t have a lot of year-round employees, so we train new employees every spring,” Tracy Giordano said.
But some of the 45 to 50 people they employ between the two locations do return from past years.
“People are fascinated with whitewater rafting guides. They are always super fascinated by them” she said. “They (the guides) all live in tents for the most part, or their vans or campers. We have a lot of people that worked the ski lifts at different resorts in the winter and work on water in the summer. We have a lot of what they call ‘lifties’ this year.”
The Menominee River Outpost is at N22200 Bomber Road in Niagara. The Peshtigo River Outpost is at N12080 Allison Lane in Athelstane. For reservations and other information, call 715-757-2938.