Five years ago, Grand Oaks Resort and Museum near Weirsdale was busy just between December and April, when small groups of carriage driving enthusiasts from around the country came to the 400-acre resort to practice in a warm snow-free climate and visit the impressive museum of horse-drawn conveyances.
Then Tom Golisano, founder and chairman of the board of Paychex, bought the resort and challenged Thomas Warriner, its vice president and general manager, to make the enterprise profitable.
Now the resort is busy year-round with expanded offerings, including "everything you can do on or behind a horse," said Warriner, plus 40 weddings a year and a few other horse-free activities such as fly fishing, trap and skeet, with an Orvis and a restaurant on site.
It also added a new RV park with 45 slips where guests can stay and keep their horses nearby.
Things are going so well that the resort is expanding its restaurant and planning a 36-room hotel. That will be an addition to the current lodging that is scattered across the 400 rolling green acres in houses that sleep from 1 to 12, totaling 88 "Pillows," said Warriner.
The new goal is to have people come stay, with or without a horse in tow, for mini vacations where they can take riding or carriage driving lessons, or let somebody else take you for a carriage, tool around the resort's 17 miles of hilly roads in golf carts and visit the carriage museum. Attracting mini-conventions is also on the resort's business plan.