Driving under a canopy of pristine woodland dripping amber, crimson and honeyed old-gold leaves, I arrived at Point Au Roche Lodge on a glorious autumn afternoon. Nestled in its surroundings, the Lodge’s sophisticated Adirondack architecture blends into its natural environment. Serenaded by joyfully singing birds, chirping squirrels and an impressive array of perennials (including eye-catching purple-topped sedum), I pass the gazebo on a many-hued carpeted path that crackled and rustled to see Karen and Creston Billings beckoning me into the Great Room. And what a Great Room it is.
The expansive space, filled with natural light, is warmly furnished with chocolate-brown leather furniture, a stone fireplace and beautifully varnished wood. Looking up to its soaring cathedral ceiling, the cleverly designed catwalks—built for humans—beg you to experience the ambiance from above. Imagine a crisp evening with pampered guests relaxing by a crackling fire exchanging stories of their day. Magical.
Owners and proprietors since 2004, the Billings are understandably proud of their business. “After many years pursuing successful careers in the San Francisco Bay area, Creston and I wanted to go into business together and thought a bed and breakfast would make a perfect fit for us,” explained Karen. “After looking in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, we had planned to go to New Hampshire until my sister saw the Lodge was for sale. All we had to do was walk inside and we knew instantly this was home.”
Built in 1994, Point Au Roche Lodge sits on two bucolic acres across the street from Point au Roche State Park. It has eight guest rooms, four with jacuzzi tubs and fireplaces. All rooms but one have decks facing the meadow in the back. Guests can literally lay on their beds and watch the birds flutter around the 12 birdhouses. Also, unlike many hotel accommodations, the windows actually open—increasing access to the outdoors.
Inviting the outdoors in is an important aspect of the Lodge’s aesthetic. To this end, Karen and Creston have planted over 25 trees, created seven perennial gardens and installed a split rail fence. They added a bird habitat with feeders Creston built and painted that guests can enjoy while eating breakfast or sitting on their decks. Depending on the season, guests can also wander a quarter-acre meadow trail among wildflowers and butterflies, or cross-country ski or snowshoe in glittering powder.
An amazing amenity, for guests and the Billings, is year-round access to the 856 acres of forest, marsh and shoreline Point au Roche State Park offers across the street. There are miles of trails for hiking in the summer or cross-country skiing in the winter, a protected, sandy beach and picnic facilities, 60 designated mooring sites for sailboats, and a Nature Center with rangers who conduct a variety of programs. The park also provides access for fishing. For guests who also want to dine out, shop, go to museums, or attend cultural events, the Lodge’s location on 463 Point Au Roche Road, Plattsburgh, puts it just seven miles from the city’s center. Those who want to venture farther out are within an hour’s drive to Montreal and Lake Placid.
ABOUT THE OWNERS
Creston and Karen Billings both bring many years of work experience to the business. Karen grew up in Plattsburgh. “Once I graduated high school, I decided to start working right away so I could travel and experience living in different parts of the country,” she said. “I started off in Florida, moved my way west via Arizona and finally settling in California where I began my career with Federal Express. Over the next 20 years, I gained valuable business experience, and developed my customer service skills. The West Coast is also where I met Creston. We’ve been together for 22 years, and will celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary next year. Having the experience of traveling, I knew what I liked when I stayed somewhere and was able to incorporate my experiences into developing the amenities at the Lodge.”
Creston hails from Scottsdale, Arizona, and developed his culinary skills at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. Before the Lodge, Creston worked in New York City and the San Francisco Bay area for over 25 years. He credits his cooking background, customer service experience and being a “jack of all trades” as helping him to be successful in the inn keeping business. “I enjoy waking up early before anyone is stirring and love that every day is different,” said Creston. “Guests are always changing so it brings a new vibe on any given day.”
A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP, PATIENCE AND A HOT PAN
Not surprisingly, Creston is in charge of all aspects of breakfast. He keeps the inventory filled, creates the menus, shops and makes sure guests awake to the aroma of fresh coffee and an energizing repast to start their day.
“My culinary background has taught me to be prepared, be organized and pay attention to timing,” Creston said. “Sometimes all the guests show up at once. Other times they come in at various times. My favorite dish to make are frittatas because I can get more creative with the ingredients. The most frequently requested dish is our Citrus French Toast. The secret to cooking breakfast is sleep, patience and a hot pan.”
Creston incorporates local ingredients into his dishes as much as possible. This includes purchasing produce from area vegetable stands that pop up during the summer as well as a harvest from a well-tended kitchen garden. This year, the Billings started many vegetables and herbs from seeds and had a successful crop of Swiss chard, cantaloupe, lettuce, peppers, as well as a myriad of fresh herbs.
GROWING THE BUSINESS
Essential for businesses today, the Billings developed a web site for marketing, and to this added online reservations and a virtual tour of the Lodge. Reviews from satisfied guests, social media, press releases, and hosting travel writers have also proved effective. The Billings also work closely with the North Country Chamber of Commerce that, as they say, does an “incredible” job of promoting the area.
The Billings’ busy season is summer and fall, when they welcome guests from all over the world. The winter, however, brings the addition of local residents who want a weekend away without having to drive in winter conditions. Moving forward, the Billings plan to incorporate more themebased retreats (writing, yoga, meditation, quilters, scrapbooking). They are also developing elopement packages.
Showcasing local artists, the hallways are lined with paintings, prints, and photos of Adirondack wildlife for guests to enjoy and purchase.
LIVING ON THE PREMISES
Landscaping aside, the Billings did not make significant changes to the Lodge’s structure—at least the area that can be seen from the outside—after they purchased the property. However, since they live on the premises, they concentrated the majority of the renovations inside to their own space. “We finished the attic on the third floor of our living area to create a master bedroom suite,” explained Karen. “We put in 16’ of windows so we had wonderful views to wake up to, and added a large master bath with a deep soaking tub, separate shower and walk-in closet. We screened in the back deck off our living area to watch the sunsets. It makes a great spot in the summer to relax and wait for guests to check in. We created a little haven for us to escape to, which we call our home inside the Lodge. Our living area is about 1500 square feet.”
“When COVID-19 arrived and we had to close, quarantining at the lodge from March through June was quite an experience,” explained Karen. “It’s the first time in 16 years we’ve actually had the Lodge to ourselves. It was the best of times in the worst of times. Through all the darkness, we made light doing jig saw puzzles on the catwalk, letting our pets enjoy the full space (rescue dogs Angus, a border collie mix, and Emma, a cattle dog mix), and enjoying the fire while sometimes staying in our sweatpants all day.”
SAFETY DURING COVID-19
Since reopening on July 1st, the Billings have carefully followed Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, and have done everything they can to keep the Lodge safe for guests and themselves. They have introduced a fogging system that uses electrolyzed salt water, also known as Hypochlorous Acid (HOCl). HOCl is a highly effective and an intrinsically safe, non-toxic, ecofriendly sanitizing agent that is 80 times stronger than bleach. It kills bacteria and deactivates viruses in seconds. (HOCl is produced with just water, table salt and electricity. In fact, the human body produces it naturally when it senses a bacterial or viral invasion.) HOCl is effective in killing the COVID-19 virus and lethal to all known dangerous bacteria and viruses, without harming people or animals. The Billings use the fogging system in guest rooms as well as common areas.
Housekeeping is limited during a guest’s stay. No one enters a guest’s room unless it is requested. Of course, fresh towels and amenities are replaced daily upon request, and trash is removed as needed.
Creston continues to cook fabulous breakfasts to order, but guests now preorder the night before. To adhere to social distancing guidelines, the furniture in the dining room has been spaced farther apart and the maximum number of guests allowed in the dining room is eight.
Hand sanitizing stations are set up throughout all common areas of the Lodge, and the Billings have updated their reservation and cancellation policy to provide guests with more flexibility and peace of mind when booking. Due to the continued uncertainty of the travel advisory, existing and new reservations scheduled for arrival before December can be changed or canceled at no charge prior to arrival.
“We want people to know that when you stay at the Lodge, you can feel comfortable, relaxed and tended to by a couple who take pride in what they do. The best compliment we receive is when guests return. This makes us very proud and happy,” said Karen.
Maybe that’s why the sign out front says “Pleasantly Full.”
Point Au Roche Lodge
463 Point Au Roche Road
Plattsburgh, NY 12901
email@example.com | www.pointaurochelodge.com
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