When Clint Wittlief and his family were looking for a new location for their resort business, finding an atmosphere matching their philosophy and values topped the list of must-haves.
Wittlief — along with his wife Amy and their adult sons Eric and Wyatt — have for years run a resort and hunting outfitting business in Canada.
The family recently put their business there up for sale and turned their attention south to seek new ventures.
“We needed to find a very red, red state in America to change our resort location to,” he said about the political climate the family prefers.
They considered some places in Montana and Idaho, but settled on Wyoming’s Deer Haven Lodge in the Bighorn Mountains near Ten Sleep as the perfect fit.
The family, which includes a younger daughter, is based in Minnesota. The Bighorn Mountains are a major destination for Midwestern snowmobilers, Wittlief said.
“People in the Bighorns understand Midwestern people and Midwestern values,” he said.
The former Deer Haven owners, Wayne and Holly Jones, “have been wonderful to work with and extremely helpful,” he said.
Not Getting Torn Down
Deer Haven has long been a beloved getaway for Wyoming residents and visitors.
It’s thought to have been built around 1917. Wittlief said county records show that cabins there were built in 1917-1918. The oldest records he could find regarding the main lodge were from the 1940s. But he’s convinced the building is older and was probably build when the cabins were.
Eric and Wyatt have been on site this summer, doing some heavy refurbishing work on the main lodge. Their father joined them briefly, before going to tend to the business in Canada.
Recent photos of the work on the lodge circulated on social media causing rumors to spread that the building was being demolished.
That’s not true, Wittlief said.
“It’s not getting torn down. It needed a major facelift, and that’s what it’s getting,” he said.
The project includes extensive rebuilding of one of the walls and parts of the foundation, he said.
The family hopes to reopen the lodge — which includes a bar and restaurant — as well as at least one of the guest cabins on Jan. 1, 2024.
In 2025, they hope to start renting snowmobiles for winter visitors, and side-by-side ATVs during the summer.
Farther out, the business might include hunting outfitting and guiding as well, Wittlief said.
He’s Been There Before
Wittlief isn’t a complete stranger to Deer Haven.
He stayed there overnight in 1996 and hoped to rent a snowmobile the next day. Unfortunately, all the machines had already been rented out.
“I thought that was the last time I would ever see Deer Haven,” he said.
But he’s thrilled to return and revive the business. He added that he, Amy and their daughter will keep their home in Minnesota, where the family runs a Christmas tree farm.
But they’re eager to spend as much time as possible in Deer Haven and also explore the rest of Wyoming.
Eric and Wyatt are already completely sold on the Cowboy State, Wittlief added.
“They’re settled out there now. They’ve put Minnesota behind them,” he said.
Mark Heinz can be reached at email@example.com.