Sno-Trac Village celebrates 50 years in business, releases new digital travel planners
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
The owners of a well-established Lovells recreational business recently released travel planners that give prospective tourists a thumbs up on various attractions and historic sites in the Upper Peninsula.
Ken Distel and Ron Mavis, the owners of Sno-Trac Village, located at 3576 Snow-Trac Trail near Lovells, are marking their 50th anniversary in business.
Founded in 1967 as the Greenleaf Park, the name was changed to Sno-Trac Village in 1971.
“At the time that we had gotten the money to put this building in and really do an expansion, we decided we needed a name that would speak more of winter because summer was going to take care of its self,” Mavis said. “We needed a name that would catch a person’s eye that here’s a campground that’s going to open in the winter.”
The business partners and some employees came up with the unique spelling for the resort and campground
“I say when we went into business, we couldn’t afford those extra letters,” Mavis said. “That always gets a chuckle from them and that means they’re going to remember you.”
Sno-Trac Village is located on 60 acres of land, with the West Branch of the Big Creek flowing through the property. Cabins and campsites are available for year-round rental. The business also offers snowmobile repair and service, design and build construction and remodeling, wood crafting, a saw mill, wooden boat repair and restoration and upholstery for boats, automobiles and snowmobiles.
Distel and Mavis followed in the footsteps of their fathers while growing up, picking up the skills that made their business venture a success.
Martin Distel was an independent building contractor.
“Ever since I was big enough to handle a hammer, I worked with my dad, who was in small construction and built houses by himself,” Distel said.
Before graduating from high school, Distel landed a job at the General Motors Fisher Body plant in Pontiac, working on the assembly line. He had a couple of chances to assume the duties as a line foreman, but opted retire after 10 years of service.
“I just didn’t need those kind of headaches,” Distel said.
Distel said he enjoys the peace and serenity of living on a resort and the interaction with visitors.
“It’s a great way of life doing everything I enjoy and not being forced into things that I don’t like, plus with all of the seasons, I’m not doing the same thing all of the time,” Distel said.
Mavis’ father, Elmer, was in the bowling business and also filmed a lot of home movies.
Mavis graduated from college, and served as an industrial arts teacher for Royal Oak Dondero High School, teaching drafting and wood shop. During the summers, he would supplement his income by borrowing his father’s professional camera and producing lecture travel films. Mavis would take groups of student to the Upper Peninsula to help with his projects and to appear in the films.
“Back in the 1960s, that was really wilderness up there and I wanted somebody to be in the pictures,” Mavis said.
Mavis retired after five years in the classroom. He went on do consulting for recreational businesses. He also became involved with the family’s bowling business, and eventually obtained the majority of rights to the stock in the company.
Mavis continued with his films, which were shown to men’s and women’s groups, civic organizations, and aired on public television. He combined his consulting and filming when visiting the Flaming Gorge Utah for a campground development.
Following the recession in the early 1980s, the bowling business was closed and Mavis moved to Lovells to live full-time.
Over the years, several expansions and upgrades have been made at the Sno-Trac Village. The business took a hit when the last recession occurred in 2009-10, but is gradually turning around when winter weather offers a playground for visitors.
“Each year we’re coming up a little bit but we have not arrived at what we used to have for gross income,” Mavis said. “But when you live in a resort, and you make enough money to keep going, it’s a wonderful life.”
Mavis returned to his spot behind the camera in March 2016 when he filmed a meeting for the Anglers of the AuSable at the Gates AuSable Lodge as members were strategizing how to deal with a proposal to increase commercial fish production at the Grayling Fish Hatchery.
That project inspired Mavis to consider producing a pilot project filming again in the Upper Peninsula, combining his old movies and slides with current filming. That project got scrapped when Mavis opted to produce digital travel planners using computer thumb drives to showcase waterfalls, historic sites, and old mines.
Mavis discovered that little information was available regarding points of interest for prospective visitors to regions in the Upper Peninsula.
“I was shocked about what little information was left,” he said.
The business venture for the travel planners is called O-Tra, which is short for On the Road Again. Mavis made day trips to the Upper Peninsula to gather footage for the first travel planner, which was recently released.
“It’s just piecing it together, talking with people and getting ideas from others,” Mavis said.
Don Miller, the owner of Northern TV who writes computer software code under the name North Star Software, was brought on board to assist with the production of the travel planners. Mavis takes the film, both men edit the footage, Miller develops the software code, and Mavis plugs in the information into the software.
The travel planners feature points of interest for visitors to learn about when considering vacations and trips.
“There places to go see and enjoy and bring back memories,” Mavis said.
The travel planners are being targeted for residents in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, who readily have access to the Upper Peninsula.
When all four travel planners are completed, there will be 400 points of interest for people to learn about in four respective regions in the Upper Peninsula.
“You wouldn’t be able to see all of those points of interest on a normal two-week vacation,” Mavis said.
Mavis, who has taken photographs and footage from the top for the Mackinac Bridge, plans to involve Distel with the production of future travel planners. Staff will be brought on board to run the day-to-day operations at the resort and campground.
The travel planners will place information regarding the points of interest at the fingertips of people planning vacations and trips. Eventually, Mavis hopes to produce films again, which will be aired on public television.
“This is going to be the thrill and fun of looking at these places, discovering them and enjoying them,” Mavis said.