The sound of kids laughing fills the air as a young family throws a frisbee on the main lawn. On the lake, generations of families cast a line into the water in hopes of reeling in an eight-pound Rainbow Trout.
Originally built in 1943, the nearly 80-year-old resort has drawn generations of families who love the rustic charm of Echo Lake. For Echo Lake Resort’s new owners Sara Spearman and John Elley, seeing people enjoy the space and connect with nature makes the months of hard work and uncertainty all worthwhile.
“Everyone who comes here says it’s their special place. They’re able to overlook the small quirks that come with simple living,” says Spearman. “What actually matters is that people can come together.”
Elley and Spearman purchased Echo Lake Resort at the start of 2022. Former investigators for the Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia, the couple decided it was time for a change. With an interest in real estate and a love of the outdoors, Spearman and Elley decided to buy a resort.
That’s when the couple hit their first roadblock. Their dream of a fishing resort that brought families together outdoors was outside the traditional commercial mortgage structure of hospitality and tourism businesses. For Spearman and Elley, that would’ve meant unrealistic interest rates and unattainable loans from traditional lenders.
If they wanted to breathe life into their dream, they knew they needed to find another way. And then their accountant and good friend, Debra Neufeld, recommended Community Futures.
“We were in the right place to meet the right people and the right lender at the right time,” says Spearman. “Community Futures helped our fantasy become a reality.”
The couple’s love of the Cariboo started their search for properties north of Kamloops. But, after having little luck finding a resort that fit their vision and business plan, the search lead Spearman and Elley to the Okanagan.
“I broadened our horizons and saw Echo Lake Resort online. I told Sara, ‘This place is stunning. You should look at it.’ Sara asked if it was in the Cariboo, and when I said no, she said she wasn’t very interested,” Elley laughs. “But Sara came back a week later after looking at it online and we arranged to go see it. As Sara was on call, I viewed it alone on a beautiful September day, and it was absolutely amazing.”
Sara viewed the pictures and by Halloween, they had an accepted offer.
Excited to launch their new careers and lives in the Okanagan, Spearman and Elley reached out to Community Futures North Okanagan in the fall of 2021. While Spearman and Elley refined their business plan, Scot McNair, Community Futures North Okanagan loans coordinator and business analyst, worked alongside the couple to secure funding.
“There were a lot of risk points that needed to be mitigated, and Community Futures helped guide us through the process,” says Spearman, noting the need for special insurance policies and transferring the BC Park Use Permit to operate the resort. “The timeline was tight. We had to make a lot of things happen with a lot of balls in the air. It was very challenging.”
Conditions were removed in January and Spearman and Elley took possession on April 2. The couple packed their bags, left the Lower Mainland and got to work.
With only a few short weeks before the start of the season in May and fresh snow still falling in the Okanagan, Elley and Spearman had one month to turnover campsites and make improvements.
“It was overwhelming. After the first week, I said to my best friends who came to help that even my fat hurts. I was so not ready for this,” says Elley. “But you just have to be able to roll with the punches.”
In the weeks that followed, Spearman, Elley and, later, their two new employees Maggie and Dean, made improvements such as adding hot water to the bathroom sinks, installing paper towel dispensers in the bathroom and making the lawn and campsites shine.
With a fully booked summer to start their first year in business and next year already 80 per cent booked, they’re confident they’re on the right path. But, for Spearman and Elley, the real highlights have been teaching a group of young kids to fish and seeing families connect and recharge offline.
“The year of start-up trials and tribulations was all worth it,” says Spearman. “It’s not just the location in the Okanagan or the cabins, it’s a special lake in a special valley and it will always be like this. We don’t feel like owners. We’re caretakers and stewards. And we’ll steward it towards its future.”
Want to learn more about Community Futures North Okanagan’s flexible business loans? Reach out to our business advisors at 250-545-2215 or visit futuresbc.com.