Episode 10 - Living and Working in Crane Lake
In this continuation of our interview with Crane Lake's own Michael Schwanke. In this episode, Michael discusses meeting his wife in Crane Lake and making a life in the area, including building a home and going into business.
Crane Lake is a place that offer incredible opportunities to experience. Explore our website to learn more about your options for the upcoming season!
What You’ll Learn in this Episode
- Crane Lake is a unique place to live.
- May to October are amazing months to visit.
- Living in the Crane Lake area can be challenging!
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Matt Addington: Thanks for coming back to Crane Lake Stories for part two with Michael Schwanke, who joined us last time talking about his youth, his childhood, his grandparents, his parents, the evolution of moving from Kabetogama, where his grandparents originally had a cabin, to Crane, and growing up there from the point where he was four or five years old to where he is now, and how Crane Lake and its stories have become part of Michael Schwanke's life. So thanks for joining us for part two, Michael.
Michael Schwanke: Yeah. Thanks for having me back.
Matt Addington: Yeah. It's just really a cool evolution, if you will, of just your life and how things have evolved to the point that they are now. Thinking back to they called you at Handberg's when you worked there as a kid, they called you Pockets, and you just stood on the dock with your hands in your pockets, to now being an adult resident who runs his business out of the Crane Lake area. Take us back, because there was a relationship that forged at Handberg's between you and your now wife, Emily. Take us back to where that started, because that was a real turning point for where you guys have come to at this point in your life.
Michael Schwanke: Sure. Yeah. So in 2016, I ended college and I was out in Colorado at the time. And then I moved up to Crane with the plan to just start guiding full time and then start the property management side of what we do. And so I did that, the first season on my own. The guiding was 30, 40 days that first year, not a lot. And I was able to use the relationships that were built at Handberg's to kind of get my foot in the door with some property owners that just needed work done and just be the guy that was available and willing to help. So I wrapped up that. Actually, I didn't even wrap it up.
It was about three quarters of the way through that season. And Emily, my now wife, Emily, she took a break from school and then it was just kind of her plan to come up to Crane and kind of finish out the season and spend a fall, because she had spent her summers there. So she knew what the summers were about, but she was starting to think about making Crane Lake home too, and she just wanted to see what a fall was like. And so she came in August and we started... I mean, I knew her. We had worked together at Handberg's for three summers previous to that, so I knew her and we were friends and whatnot. And then that fall just kind of things turned from friends to a little bit more interest there. And we started dating that fall, and year and a half after that we're engaged and then eight months after that we're married.
Matt Addington: Yeah. And I should have rewound just a little bit too. We did have Emily on a previous this episode, so you could certainly go back on the page to listen to Emily talking about her version of this story, which-
Michael Schwanke: Hers is better.
Matt Addington: Yeah. I was just going to say, it's a lot more eloquent and well spoken than you, but we'll take her part of it as more truth than maybe what you would tell us. But that relationship just really was amazing the way that obviously you guys knew each other and her family coming from South Carolina all the way up there and you can hear her story. But at what point did you guys... I mean, you realized, "Hey, we like each other. We're going to get married," all of these things. Talk a little bit about where the vision started for, "What if we made this place home?" When did those thoughts kind of pop into your head?
Michael Schwanke: I mean, I think that fall that we really started to hang out and when we were just dating. I mean, I had started Voyageurs Guide Service and whatnot, and she knew that that was something that I wanted to see through. And I mean, part of her being up here that fall was to try to find her route or her avenue and whatnot. So with the guide service being started, and then once we got engaged and whatnot, it was just really natural for her part, which is more paddle trips and boat tours and that kind of stuff, to just be another addition to Voyageurs Guide Service.
Matt Addington: Right.
Michael Schwanke: Just another thing we do and offer.
Matt Addington: So I was lucky enough to be at your wedding. One of the more unique settings, obviously, on an island up in the north Minnesota wilderness. It was probably no question that that was where you guys would even do your ceremony, let alone live your guys' lives, would you say?
Michael Schwanke: Oh, yeah. There was no question about it. I mean, we were on the same page when it came to getting married in Crane on my island. We did the reception at the lawn of my grandpa's and my parents' place. And honestly, one of the coolest parts was to have all those people that watched me grow up working at Handberg's, same with Emily. Our Crane Lake family came and we got to share that day with them. It was a special day.
Matt Addington: Yeah. I think about our family being the blessing of being there, and it was all of those things that you could just see all of these people kind of converge and share in a day in a place that was so special to you guys was really a pretty cool experience, even for just your guests to experience with you guys. As you guys obviously have now moved into married life, in the first episode we talked about we're doing this show. You're down in South Carolina right now, which is Emily's family's home. Talk a little bit about you guys built a home, but it's not your typical home where you've got a cul-de-sac and you just drive your car up to it and the garage door goes up and you pull in. Talk a little bit about your guys' idea and vision and how building a home in a unique place has kind of changed your lives.
Michael Schwanke: Sure. Yeah. So I guess once we were like, "Crane is it for us," we were like, "Okay, well, where are we going to build a house?" And I think we wanted a blank slate. We wanted a vacant piece of land that we could make our own, build our house on, run our business out of, all that. And we looked at it with my folks owning a place and her folks owning a place on Kicker Boulevard and my grandparents too, we looked at it like I don't necessarily need to have a place that I can drive my car to and live that way. The appeal of having to drive my boat or my snowmobile to get to my house was actually intriguing for us.
So it just happened that there was a 17-acre chunk for sale, and the timing just worked out and it was kind of crazy how it all did, but. So we bought that piece of land and sat on it for a year, and then started building our house after our guide season kind of wrapped up in September. We spent September and October building the shell of it so we could get everything sealed up before the winter. And then in the winter, we could be up there and finish the interior of it. And we worked our tails off that winter to get it to a point where we could live in it come May, once the ice went out. And lot of hard work, little bit of tears, but we made it happen.
Matt Addington: Yeah. And what an amazing place. And there's just not many people in the world that can say, "We built a place that the rest of the world might think is crazy. We built a place that the rest of the world can't really have vision of and that we honestly can't get in and out of for a certain part of the year." What are your thoughts? And how do you guys navigate kind of the freeze-up and the ice-out time? It's the down season for you from a business standpoint for the most part, but how do you guys kind of look at the calendar and look at the weather and then make some decisions to go visit family in South Carolina? You guys like to adventure and go out west and do other things during that time, but talk a little bit about the seasonal change and how ultimately it kind of kicks you out of your house for just a little bit.
Michael Schwanke: Yeah. And you're right, it totally does. It kicks us out. But I think at that point in the fall, when it kicks us out, I mean, we're ready to go be somewhere else and do something else. I mean, we're both still young, so we like to just take a nice vacation for the two of us. But I mean, we kind of picked that fall date and we kind of picked that a ways out. So whether or not the ice is... I mean, we might have to leave early. So I guess if winter comes early, we'd have to leave early. But if it stayed nice, then so be it. And we've actually talked about staying through one time just to say we've done it, and we probably will. We haven't yet, because it's just a good opportunity to see family, friends, and whatnot that you don't get to see so much in Crane.
Matt Addington: Sure. And we're going to talk a little bit about your business. Like you said, by the time late October, early November rolls around, you guys are exhausted. You're doing property management. You're guiding fishing trips like crazy throughout the open water season. Emily is doing paddle trips and sightseeing stuff. You guys go a hundred miles an hour for that season. It's time to go and rest a little bit, but talk a little bit about the things that you guys are doing from May till October.
Michael Schwanke: Yeah. So I mean, just for me personally, once fishing opener gets going, then I don't really stop fishing until the end of September. I mean, I'll take some guide ships in October, but I mean, my goal every year is a hundred plus guide days in that stretch. I think that's a sweet spot to be. And all the other days that I'm not guiding, we try to take some project for cabins or properties that we manage.
Matt Addington: So you're obviously doing the fishing thing and we'll put the links to your website, to your social media, and things where people can follow you and get in touch with you because you are a conduit for visitors to come there. Well, you've got the opportunity to rent cabins or properties where people can come to visit. You've got connections with all of the activities and things to do between you and Emily and the team of folks that you've got working with you. If you were talking to a first-time visitor about coming to Crane, what are some of the things that you would try to sell them on or encourage them with as they were planning a trip up to the Crane Lake area?
Michael Schwanke: Yeah, I think that honestly, the biggest selling point from Crane compared to any other gateway to the Voyageurs National Park is that what Crane offers you that the others can't is that your access to the park obviously, very easy access to the park, but then to the boundary waters and to Quetico. Those are things that Kab and Rainy can't offer you. And I mean, I guess the Canadian side standpoint and Namakan and all that. I think that there's just a lot of cool stuff that people don't utilize. And I mean, some of it isn't easy, but some of it is, just from an accessibility standpoint that Crane offers you. And that's why I'm super happy that this is kind of rewinding, but super happy that my grandparents had a place in Kab but then came down to Crane. Where we're positioned at is due to them, and I'm super grateful for that.
Matt Addington: Yeah. It is a place that... I mean, could you, from Kab, get to LaCroix or get to the bond? I mean, you could. But Crane makes it that much more accessible. Yeah. I mean, it's just much more central that way. And from a business standpoint, like I mentioned, you guys have put yourself in a place to offer a lot of things. And really, I look at all of the businesses up there and it's like people just are offering accessibility to those folks that maybe have come for years and years through generations but also for the first time visitors that we've talked to even on these episodes, that it's a unique place. And Crane and all of its businesses in awesome ways offer just great adventure and great getaway into a place where just so many other places don't. And so you and your business, whether it be fishing or paddle trips, pontoon rental, property management if it's renting a cabin or a place to stay, you really can offer people and be able to provide people all of those services.
Michael Schwanke: Yeah. And that's kind of been something that's helped us be successful is just to kind of cater to what do people want? What do they need when they come up here to have a good time? And that's the backbone of everything up here is that stuff.
Matt Addington: Right. It is definitely a seasonal place and there's lots of things to do. We've talked about the ATV riding, the snowmobiling, some of the stuff that does go outside of that summer window when it's kind of crazy time or the high booking time. But what are some of the things that you think about now as you move forward? I know that snowmobiling is something that you are trying to offer a little bit going into this winter. Talk a little bit about that down season.
Michael Schwanke: Yeah. So since we built our house and we're here, we're in Crane now more in the winter than ever before, we're getting into renting some snowmobiles this season. That's something that, it's been happening a long time in the area, and there's an opportunity to do a little bit more of that. So we bought a couple sleds and we're starting to get into that part of it.
Matt Addington: Cool. I know you've got some ideas of things and some things in motion kind of behind the scenes, but talk a little bit about the future of your business and anything that, as you and Emily together look at where are we going from here. Talk just a little bit about what your future looks like.
Michael Schwanke: Yeah. So we've been working on kind of a passion project, if you will, for of the last four years. And it's more experienced-based lodging, and we've been working on it. And we're excited to kind of roll that out here in the next six months, so stay tuned.
Matt Addington: Cool. Yeah. It's a pretty cool thing and will provide visitors that have come for a long time or first-time visitors, it's going to provide a pretty unique experience that will be a really exciting addition to kind of just all of the offerings that everybody's got at Crane Lake. So we'll definitely keep folks posted on what's happening there. But hey, I just, again, appreciate you coming on for a second time here, talking about your adult life and your business and the future of what the ideas of things that you and Emily together have for Crane Lake. But thanks for being there. Thanks for coming on and telling us a little bit more about your Crane Lake story.
Michael Schwanke: Thanks for having me on, Matt. I appreciate it.
Matt Addington: So that's the end of episode two here with Michael Schwanke. Voyageurs Guide Service, he and his wife, Emily, just do amazing things up there and have relationships with so many people, which is really... They're both faces that you would recognize if you are a first-time visitor or a longtime visitor, definitely folks to check out and at least introduce yourself to or meet with or take a look at some of the services they offer. So that's going to do it for this episode. Appreciate you coming on again, and stay tuned for another visit down the road with someone else telling their Crane Lake story.
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Crane Lake Visitor & Tourism Bureau
7511 Gold Coast Road
Crane Lake, MN 55725
800-362-7405 · 218-993-2901