New owner embraces storied history of Trego resort

Heartwood Resort & Conference Center encompasses 700 acres of woodlands near Trego, Wis., and features the Eagle Lodge. It sits beside Hoinville Lake, named for the couple who bought the property from the railroad in 1922 and who built this three-story log home a year later.

The new owner of the Heartwood Resort & Conference Center well knows the assets of his most recently acquired property in Northwestern Wisconsin. Ask Mark Wallskog what attracted him to the Trego resort, and he’ll mention the natural beauty of the region, an in-place dedicated staff and a friendly community.

He’s certainly familiar with the locale. Wallskog co-owns Bump’s Lakeside and Devil’s Lake Resort in Webster, as well as Big Bear Lake Condos in Webb Lake, making a resort triangle in the region. Plus, the Minnesota native’s family bought their own cabin on Big Bear Lake about 15 years ago. 

“One thing I’ve always admired about northwest Wisconsin is that when you pay a visit to one of the local businesses, you almost always see the owner out and about chatting with customers,” he said. “It’s unlike any other place in the world.”

Wallskog steps into a property with a long history of hospitality. It was launched in 1992 as Hoinville Hills by a couple from Chicago – Charles and Julia Hoinville – who, so the story goes, traveled 26 miles in an open sleigh in 10-below-zero temps to view the 1,200-acre property and then bought it from the railroad for which Charles’ worked. They built their three-story log home there the next year. After Julia and Charles died, Charles second wife sold the property to the Paradise Sportsmen’s Club (also from Chicago) and it became a hospitality locale. Between the time of the sportsmen’s club and Wallskog’s purchase last year, there were six additional owners, including the Northwest Suburban Council of the Boy Scouts of Des Plaines, Ill., and Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, Minn. Most added amenities or buildings. Thrivent purchased it in 2005 and named it Heartwood Conference Center & Retreat. Wallskog, along with two Twin Cities-area real estate investors, bought it from Thrivent in December last year.

The place has had some spice in its history, too, like in the early 1960s when the then-owner triple dipped by selling three sets of the same 99-year-leases on the cabins, then skipped to Mexico with the $500 invested from each lease. In 1962, the Boy Scouts acquired the property for $15,000 in back taxes, selling it in 1977 for $330,000. Besides Hoinville Hills, the hospitality operation has been called The Briar Patch and the Schwan Center.

During its ownership years, Thrivent Financial made a significant investment in the property, Wallskog noted. “The property underwent many improvements, all maintained immaculately. Thrivent and their resort management team have been wonderful to work with during this transition.”

The property now contains 700 acres and offers overnight stays in the 52-room Eagle Lodge, duplex cabins, lakeside cottages and two homes, the five-bedroom Hoinville House and the three-bedroom Lake House. There is the Pine Lodge Restaurant and onsite recreation options and equipment rentals, such as canoes, kayaks, tubes and rowboats to use on Hoinville Lake. 

Wallskog plans to continue offering corporate and private retreats in the center’s 10,000 square-feet of meeting space. The site also offers accommodations for weddings, family reunion gatherings and even simple weekend getaways for families and couples. 

In addition to the gorgeous setting, Wallskog noted, he’s inherited a skilled staff.

“I’ve been a part of six large events already held at Heartwood since the end of December, and I’m amazed,” Wallskog said. “I’ve observed our staff accommodate guests so beautifully with the services and meals we provide. I intend to be onsite often and listen and learn much more about how to enhance our guest experiences.”

It’s no surprise, then, that Wallskog and his managers intend to keep the staff that he says “has many years of experience offering platinum level services to our guests … and are very loyal to the property.”

Wallskog is impressed with the ability of the culinary staff, who provide all meals, beverages and break service to make meetings – including overnights – all-inclusive. “We match our meeting packages to the needs of the group, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach,” he said.  

The meeting space includes a large boardroom overlooking the lake, a ballroom accommodating up to 290 people and a lower level space that walks out to the lake, which can be divided in half, in addition to three breakout rooms on the opposite side of the lobby.

An executive chef prepares meals and snacks that match the style and feel of the event, from a traditional cookout to multi-course meals. The 52-guest hotel rooms all view the lake, with either a walkout or a balcony. For large group retreats, there are 10 duplex cabins, each with four bedrooms, plus two homes and five cottages.

The new Heartwood will also focus on weddings, keeping up with the tradition of hosting 25 to 30 of them annually. Many couples find having everything – catering, lodging, reception space, entertainment and activities – in one location eases planning. The ceremonies can be inside or on the lawn beside the lake.

“Our hotel rooms are adjacent to the conference center,” Wallskog said, “allowing guests the ability to stay until the end of the event without the worry of having to drive anywhere.”

In the winter, guests can enjoy cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, broomball, ice skating, ice fishing, tubing and snowmobile trails. In the summer, the resort offers swimming beaches, mountain biking, disc golf and hayrides. Wallskog said the center packages “a full Northwoods experience” and encourages guests to enjoy both onsite activities and to visit neighboring businesses. 

He touts “the best area fishing and trail guides,” plus top golf courses, lakeview taverns, ATV/UTV area trails and other options available for guests. 

“There are so many activities onsite at the resort and in the immediate area. Our family has been up in the area for the last 14 years, and we still have more to experience. … Hopefully we will create an abundant amount of new family stories like I’ve been able to be a part of for our family,” Wallskog said. “We want our guests to enjoy all of the Northwoods fun.” 

Holly Henry is a freelance writer based in Northwestern Wisconsin.