May 15, 2020 Q&A with Tom McGurl
The LGLC purchased 212 acres of the Twin Pines Resort in the Town of Bolton on December 20, 2019. Owned by the McGurl family, the Resort will continue to be run unaffected by this sale. Below is an interview conducted with Tom McGurl, Jr., who currently operates the Resort with his wife, Karen, and father, Tom McGurl, Sr. Read about the purchase in our recent newsletter, or in our press release. Scroll to the bottom of the interview for images of the McGurl family and Twin Pines property, provided by Tom McGurl, Jr.
Your parents purchased Twin Pines as an act of “midlife crisis” in 1986, when you and your brother were teenagers—what do you remember about that time and their decision?
My father taught eighth-grade social studies for 20 years in the Troy City School District, and my mother was an Elementary Principal at Doane Stuart in Albany. My dad retired to run Twin Pines, and my mom continued you work for about 15 years longer. Before owning Twin Pines, we spent our summers on Brant Lake at our summer home. My brother and I were 14 and 15, respectively, when we purchased the property. Interestingly, I remember my dad and mom talking about it. My dad was burnt out with education, and my mom asked him what he wanted to do, his response was run a hotel on Lake George. We had never visited Lake George or Bolton Landing. We were camping people not growing up, not hotel or resort goers.
My parents started looking at several properties on 9N in Lake George. None had the space, land, and possibilities that my parents were looking for. We did not care for the packed-in feeling that we got from the 9N properties that we looked at. We finally looked at Twin Pines in the middle of the winter with snow on the ground, and my parents made an offer. The former owners were looking to sell, a business that had been in their family since the 1920s, due to Mr. Russ’s failing health. My parents had owned rental property in Troy, for RPI students, but nothing like this. At the time, I recall being excited, but not surprised by the decision. Looking back, a degree more of fear would have been advisable. Owning a property like Twin Pines is a HUGE commitment that cannot be fully understood unless you have lived it.
A word of advice…. never but a summer business in the winter with snow on the ground. As the snow melted, we found that nearly everything needed either repair or replacement. This became our mission for about the next 15 years. My father was not particularly handy, and two educators buying a resort did not leave any money to hire work out. We all learned very quickly to build, plumb, and even do electrical work. I learned more from Bill Brauser (old-time Bolton electrician), telling me how or how not to electrocute myself, work hard, and treat others than I did in 4 years of college. As a family, we worked very long days to keep the ship afloat.
We continued to live in Albany until the early ’90s. My dad commuted part of the time in the winter. We all lived in a room off the beach building in the first years when the season was on. It was pretty tight quarters for sure. My parents finally moved to the property in around 93-94, and My wife and I moved here in the with our family to the property around 2002. My mom commuted to Albany for several years after before taking a preschool director position in Glens Falls.
My brother and I went from summers swimming and skiing on Brant Lake to long hours of hard physical work, dealing with people that can be demanding, and admittedly having one hell of a lot of fun in the process as my parents were to busy to be watching us all the time.
In the early years, we hired my high school or college friends to work, which only added to the atmosphere. Like I said, most everything was broke or missing or patched. Virtually everything we touched required four more repairs. There was no end to the work. Still is not really, but it has become more scheduled.
What is your fondest memory of those first years at Twin Pines? How has that changed over time?
That is an excellent question. Most of the time, it was just a lot of fun. We met a lot of lovely guests who still return to this day. We worked hard and played just as hard. I would not say the early years would fall in the category of Twin Pines being a “well run” business, but I think many of the guests felt as connected with us as they did with the place. Having all our friends as workers made it all the better. We did a lot of stupid stuff that made people laugh like hell and want to come back to see what we would do next. Everyone just worked crazy long hours and crazy hard.
My dad was not very sympathetic to being tired, sick, or injured. You worked, and you did not question it. Frankly, it was a great life lesson that has benefited me throughout my career. Many of the guys we worked within the early days feel the same way. My dad has always bent over backward for guests and continues to do so. People enjoy visiting with him when they return. The property has had continuous improvements over the years—new buildings up, old ones down. The entire mechanical systems have been replaced. The guests have not changed much.
I would be remiss if I did not say meeting my wife (former Twin Pines guest) was not the highlight. We met my first season at Twin Pines. Her family had been coming for many years, and Millstone Cottages before that. Little did she know that she would spend the rest of her life involved with the place.
Twin Pines was originally an adult Jewish resort that served three meals per day (think the movie Dirty Dancing). They transitioned over to efficiency cottages in the early 1970s. Many of the “old-timers” were still coming to Twin Pines when we first arrived, and even today, we have people stop in that were guests or workers many years ago. Today, we draw guests from around the northeast primarily, but nationally and internationally as well.
My brother moved away after college, and my mom passed away in 2009. Twin Pines is still a family affair. My dad always does the reservations on paper charts and handles all the day to day operations during the summer. My wife does the books and financials, and with my job, I work on the weekends in the summer and throughout the year.
Staffing is a big challenge (perhaps the biggest) today, wherein the early days, it was not. People just do not want to work hard. Or if they do, it is only for a short period. We were one of the first businesses to hire foreign workers, long before it became the norm. We still do today, though we would much instead hire locals.
The guests remain great people. We cater to people who do not want to be in LG but want to be near LG. We very rarely have issues with guests. In some cases, we are on our third generation of Twin Pines guests that we have worked with.
Do you see Twin Pines being run by the next generation? I understand your brother and his family do not live nearby; are your kids or his kids interested in taking over the business?
My brother currently lives in Minnesota with his wife and two children. He has not been involved with the business for many years. My son works in NYC, and I doubt he will be interested in Twin Pines in his later years. I hold out hope for my daughter. She is in college, works at Twin Pines in the summer, and will be a third-generation social studies teacher. It is not a bad gig for a teacher, for sure.
My dad will continue to run Twin Pines until I have to pull him out from under a building fee first. He likes what he does, and though the work exhausts him, it also keeps him going. For better or worse, it is all he knows.
For my wife and I, we intend to run Twin Pines when I retire. (5-6 years). I enjoy working outside and taking care of the property. I get a sense of satisfaction from it. I have a lot of really fond memories that I look back on. My parents invested a tremendous of time and energy into the place, and I feel I need to keep that going to honor their efforts and, in my mom’s case, memory. In the years to come, I would like to reduce the number of rentals to a more manageable quantity and have those rentals VERY well cared for, expanding the season and transitioning from weekly rentals to longer-term rentals.
Why did you choose to work with the LGLC to sell the uplands of the Twin Pines property?
The idea of working with the LGLC came to me about six years ago. My parents had subdivided the property several years prior, but never really wanted to have houses built around them. Over the 30+ years, I am the only member of our family that regularly walked the property or even knew where the property lines fell. The LGLC was doing good work locally, with Cat and Thomas, and later the Pinnacle. It seemed like a natural fit given that we connect with NYS land, Cat Mt. Road (which provides access to a short trail to the top of Cat), and we were the proud owner of a 40-acre wetland that feeds into Trout Lake and eventually Lake George.
We wanted the land protected in perpetuity but were not adverse to people enjoying it. It was not a fast process for sure, but the LGLC, its board, former board members, and staff stuck with the project until it came to fruition. In the end, I think it will be a big win for all parties involved as well as Bolton Landing and the Hub.
Many years from now, Twin Pines may well no longer exist, and the McGurl name may well be just a footnote in Bolton’s long history, but the land will continue to exist and be enjoyed by visitors. There is a measure of sanctification in that, much the way that there is when we hear from our guests about how much our business has shaped the milestones in the lives of their families over the years.
If more people would do the same thing, the land could be responsibly preserved while still being enjoyed.