New Direction - Top Five “Up North” Meeting Theme Ideas

When looking for a theme for a retreat or meeting, don’t look to Pinterest or into an old manila folder labeled “Event Themes.” Instead, look north, as in “Up North.” Jodi Wegge, Sales Manager at Ruttger’s Bay Lake Lodge offers some great ideas to turn an ordinary business meeting into an unforgettable, pine-scented, log-cabin-on-a-lake, s’mores-by-the-bonfire Up North Minnesota getaway.

Q. Tell me about Ruttger’s Bay Lake Lodge and what guests will find there?

A. We’re located in the beautiful Brainerd Lakes area, just two hours north of the Twin Cities metro area. Ruttger’s is the oldest continually owned family resort in Minnesota and has been a family tradition since we opened on the shores of Bay Lake in 1898. We offer a variety of lodging options, delicious dining, The Fine Line Salon and Spa, and a wide range of fun activities including golf, swimming, a full marina, tennis, shuffleboard and much, much more.

Q. Corporate groups who come to Ruttger’s are often looking for unique and effective team-building activities. What do you recommend?

A. We offer lots of fun ideas that prove valuable to team building and corporate retreats.

For example, a Walleye Shore Lunch. It’s the most Minnesotan of all meals, and for good reason. Fresh walleye fried on the shores of a crystal-clear lake is as tasty as it gets. Add in a cold beverage, a group of good people to share the experience, and a loon singing in the background and it’s near perfection. For the complete experience, we recommend including a guided fishing launch, or planning a private fishing tournament. Guests can bring in their own catch, filet and fry them up. Or, if they don’t want to do all that work, Ruttger’s will fry up walleye for their group with all the fixings. I strongly recommend finishing off the day with some ooey, gooey s’mores and some campfire music too.   

For groups looking for a little adventure, we recommend the “Pits.” The Mine Pits in Cuyuna State Recreation Area were formerly open-pit iron ore mines flooded in the 1970s and developed into a haven for outdoor adventure seekers. Miles of red-dirt mountain bike trails and hiking paths, plus thousands of acres of pristine, clear, spring-fed lakes are spectacularly beautiful and peaceful.  Guests can head off on their own or use an outfitter to take them on a guided adventure of their choosing. Options are mountain biking, hiking, kayaking, paddle boarding and more. No matter what, I always encourage bringing along a camera. There are many resorts and meetings spaces, including Ruttger’s, within an easy drive of the Mine Pits.

For the festive group, there is Oktoberfest, an annual event celebrated by the very large and proud “Up North” German population who know how to eat, drink, and have a great time. Guests can choose to go authentic by dressing in traditional dirndl and lederhosen or just as they are, but every celebration must include good Oktoberfest beer, plates of sausages, red cabbage, schnitzel, spätzle, and potatoes. And of course, there’s also dancing and singing traditional German party songs. I highly recommend hamerschlagen, a hilariously fun game involving a slab of wood, some nails, a hammer and, of course, beer.

When planning a retreat between mid-March and mid-April, a maple tapping theme is a tasty option. Trekking into the woods, tapping, and collecting the sap from maple trees, and producing sweet and delicious maple syrup is a beloved “Up North” spring tradition. There are several small, artisan maple syrup producers who give tours of the production process, as well as informational seminars. Some will even allow visitors to participate in the entire tapping and collecting process, if the timing is right. Visitors should ask their resort or chosen venue for a producer near them. At Ruttger’s, we partner with Clay Hill Farms. Visitors who have never had fresh maple syrup warm from the processor are in for a treat. I strongly recommend trying the maple caramels. And, of course, a hearty pancake breakfast is sure to be a highlight.   

Finally, the call of the loon is the soundtrack of the “Up North” summer. It’s a truly magical song. Planning a meeting or retreat themed on these beautiful and interesting birds is a great option for those who love nature. Bring in an ornithologist for a quick discussion about the habits, habitats, and life cycle of loons, and then hit the water on pontoons to observe these spectacular birds in action. All “Up North” lakes have at least one pair of loons, (Bay Lake had 19 pairs last summer), so you’ll be sure to get an up-close look. Bringing a camera is an absolute must, and telephoto lenses are encouraged. It’s a fun idea to have a photo contest and print out the winners to decorate the office. Other ideas include loon trivia, loon-calling contests, and art and wine loon painting/crafts.

Northern Minnesota offers so many interesting activities, gorgeous surroundings, mouthwatering local cuisine, and of course, lakes galore, it’s easy to plan an “Up North” gathering for groups of every size.

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Jodi Wegge, Group Sales Manager | Ruttger's Bay Lake Lodge |

Jodi Wegge is a corporate specialist for people who are planning their next business meeting, conference, or retreat. Through her obsession for detail, passion for everything corporate, and her enthusiasm for helping people and making friends, you can rest assured your next meeting will be a success! When she’s not making corporate bookings at Ruttger’s, she’s enjoying the lake with family and friends, hiking the Superior Hiking Trail, or fund raising for Pediatric Cancer.

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