At a time when Lake Chelan waterfront costs approximately a gazillion dollars for a decent-sized lot, Robert “Bub” Watson, Jr. is content to hold onto his family's little piece of the South Shore – 130 acres, give or take – and run a resort built on, you might say, Family Tradition.
It's all about family for the Watsons, who take that one step further and invite YOUR family to be part of the tradition. For many decades, people from all over Washington state – especially the westside – have been vacationing at Watson's Harverene Resort with its prime location right next door to the Lake Chelan State Park. No mega-resort here, just cottages down by the water where the resort also features beach and lawn areas for family recreation, a swimming pool and boat docks and moorage for 45 boats.
The resort has just seven units available for nightly rental and those can get scarce during the peak of the sunny Chelan summer. Another 12 cottages are leased by the year and, back from the water a ways, are 53 mobile home sites. It all adds up to a lakefront community all its own and, from what we could tell, guests were getting plenty of use out of the lake and recreational facilities on the bright July day we visited.
The summer scene at Watson's is one of laughing children, the tantalizing scent of barbecue in the air, dads playing catch with their kids and, off in the distance, the sounds of boat engines idling as ski boats wait two or three in line to get gas pumped at Watson's dock. It could be any family lakeside retreat in the country, except that in this case the backdrop is the pristine, clear water of 55-mile-long Lake Chelan, which stretches far to the northwest, snaking into the heart of the majestic Cascade Mountains.
Nowadays it's pretty hard to find 130 acres of property on such a popular lake, even if you could afford to pay for it. You have to start working on it well in advance – so far in advance you won't be born for another 70 years or so. It was Bub Watson's great grandfather who had the foresight to post a claim on this lakefront property. It was back in the 1890's and J. Howard Watson was not just a good real estate investor – he also knew a thing or two about newspapers. He founded the Spokane Spokesman (which later became today's Spokesman-Review) and he worked for the Seattle Times and Walla Walla Union-Bulletin. He was even secretary to Washington's governor for two years.
It was J. Howard Watson's son – Bub's grandfather – that, in the 1920's, led the transformation of the property to a resort. “A lot of people were coming and using the beach,” says Bub, “and my grandfather figured maybe he ought to start charging them. That's how it all started.”
Bub's grandfather passed the resort onto Bub's parents, Robert Sr. and Barbara, who ran the resort for many years, and as Bub went to Chelan area schools through the 70's. They started Bub out running the orchards on their property and eventually, after the orchards were removed, Bub learned how to manage the resort. The senior Watsons are still alive and well, Bub points out: “They're still the bosses – they're just never around,” he says jokingly.
The resort has seen the vacation rental business change over the years. The time was when visitors to Lake Chelan had two basic choices – a room at one of the larger resorts in town, or cottages at just a couple resorts like Watson's further uplake. Now there are a large number of vacation homes available for weekly and monthly rental and more competition for the visitor's dollar. The resort business here also is quite seasonal, with heavy demand for rentals during the warmest months and a significant drop-off when the weather turns cold.
But during peak weather months, it's no wonder that Lake Chelan attracts a huge volume of tourists, both young and old. The natural beauty of the lake and nearby mountains has been enhanced by the addition of such visitor attractions as the many wineries that have sprung up in recent years. With only a few thousand year-round residents, Chelan also offers a surprisingly good selection of restaurants. And town fathers have done a good job creating attractive parks and walkways designed to take full advantage of the lake and the natural surroundings.
In conversations with Bub, the F word keeps coming up again and again – family. Bub and his wife Socco have four kids of their own and he views the resort as a chance to promote family values. All of the resort's advertising emphasizes the family appeal of the resort and Bub's even been hosting concerts and musical performances on his property designed to allow parents and kids to enjoy music and dancing together. His new Outback Stage on property adjacent to the resort's Alpenhorn Restaurant, now features live musical acts several times a year – events that are tame by Big City standards, but fun for the entire family.
“When there are kids around,” says Bub, “the adults behave better.”
In yet another concert venue elsewhere on the resort property, Bub has put together a western-themed stage, barn and cookhouse area where he hosts special charity events, again bringing in live music for all to enjoy. These special-invitation events have raised money for several different causes and also give Bub a chance to show off his hobbies: raising Belgian horses and collecting anything to do with horse-drawn transportation.
But guests to Watson's Harverene Resort may not actually see much of that as most will be content to soak up the sun and frolic by the lakefront and marvel at the mountain and lake views that first mesmerized J. Howard Watson more than a century ago. These visitors are no doubt happy to be unofficially part of the Watson family – if only for a few days at a time.
For more information on Watson's Harverene Resort, please visit www.watsonsresort.com or phone 509-687-3720.