About Seven Oaks Recreation
A family owned and operated business offering the best in outdoor recreation.
In 1996, Rick Bryan, serving as Chairman of the Oskaloosa Park Board, was scheduled to play in a Pro Am Golf outing but was rained out. With nothing on the schedule for the balance of the day, for reasons of curiosity, he decided to travel to rural Boone, Iowa to see what had ever became of the ski area that he knew had existed in earlier years. In addition to being the Plant Manager for a company in Oskaloosa, Rick was also President of Fun Valley Ski Area in Montezuma. Fun Valley was opened in the winter of 1970 by Rick’s parents Edwin and Kay and following Edwin’s death in 1992, Rick was elected President of that company. The Fun Valley Ski Area was truly a family operation with all seven kids and later the grandkids helping in rental, grooming, snowmaking, lessons, retail, etc. not to mention having a concrete trowel or hammer and saw in hand when another expansion project was initiated.
Upon arrival at Boone, it was discovered the property previously occupied by the ski area known as Ski Valley had fallen in disrepair after years of being non operational. Impressed with the vertical of the trails, the large run-out at the bottom, the close proximity to highway 30 and the demographics, Rick decided to assemble a business plan for Fun Valley, Inc. to acquire the property. Loans were secured, the land was purchased and the construction of Seven Oaks began in the spring of 1997. The name Seven Oaks was created from a combination of seven siblings and the majestic oak trees that adorn the timber.
Rick’s son Joel had just graduated from UNI and was offered the opportunity to be the General Manager of the new ski area. Joel had spent every free moment at Fun Valley for years and had performed virtually every job at one time or another. His passion for the ski industry caused Joel to be an obvious first choice for the task of managing a new ski area.
A triple seat chair lift was acquired in Kentucky, disassembled, re-engineered, transported to Seven Oaks, assembled on site and tested. Approximately one mile of electrical and water lines were trenched in for snowmaking, new lights were installed, two rope tows were put in, the lodge was largely gutted and rebuilt, the maintenance shop was converted into a rental shop, snow guns were acquired as was a Prinoth snow cat for grooming and the rental shop was equipped with skis, boots, poles and snowboards.
Seven Oaks opened for its first season of skiing and snowboarding in winter of 1997-98. Advertising was aggressively pursued to let the region know that a new ski area existed but this first year of operation was greeted with El Nino, a natural phenomenon bringing unseasonably warm temps and a subsequent short season.
In the summer of 1998, Joel carved out the first mountain bike trail and a race was held. Ultimately, Seven Oaks hosted the first Iowa Games Mountain Bike race. No additional improvements were made during the summer of 98 but we all looked forward to a second season. A second season that would surely be better than the first, with colder temps, more snow and more customers due to continued advertising was eagerly anticipated. But that wasn’t the case. For season two, the winter of 1998-99 we were greeted with La Nina, the little sister of El Nino with similar weather patterns. Hence year two was pretty warm, had some rain and netted in another short ski season.
Now the bank was really nervous due to two ski areas having two meager back to back seasons. It was ultimately decided that Fun Valley should divest itself of Seven Oaks so following a lot of sleepless consideration, Rick and his wife Connie decided to purchase the assets of Seven Oaks as sole proprietors and rid themselves of all ownership in Fun Valley.
So into the next chapter of the story we go. The deal was closed in June 1999, Rick and Connie continue to reside and work in Oskaloosa but now own Seven Oaks, Joel is the General Manager and our other two children Jeremy and Jill agree to assist us however they can to make Seven Oaks a success. It was well established that the objective for Seven Oaks was to offer year round outdoor recreation with expansion in the activities offered as resources would allow through growth within each activity.
Immediately after the change in ownership, June of 1999 a golf driving range was opened at Seven Oaks. The range, while successful, was closed after four years in the spring of 2003, when it was known that two local golf courses would be offering a driving range at their facilities.
The winter of 1999-2000 was the first winter season under the new ownership. At the end of the season Seven Oaks hosted the first-in-Iowa WSA SnowCross.
The winter of 2000-01 started with several snowfalls in early December and the snow stayed with us for the entire winter. What a relief that was. One new Areco snow gun was purchased.
In the summer of 2001, Seven Oaks introduced full service canoe floats utilizing the scenic Des Moines River. This service continues to exist and growth has been continuous. Typically, additional canoes and support equipment have been added each spring. Also in the summer of 2001, Seven Oaks hosted two outdoor concerts.
The winter of 2001-02 was when we introduced snow tubing to our activities. A hill was shaped, a lift was purchased and installed, snowmaking was added to this area and 100 snow tubes were purchased. This outdoor winter activity was growing in popularity and it didn’t require lessons. Sledding and tobogganing have long been a family source of winter fun with only two issues. Those being one had to walk back up the hill dragging the sled and one had to have snow. Since we make our own snow and installed the special lift that would carry the patron and tube to the top of the hill, those two issues were eliminated. At the end of the 2002 winter season Seven Oaks hosted their first snowmobile drag race with the help of the local club HighBridge Trailriders. The snowmobile drags were discontinued after four years following the spring race in March 2005.
In the summer of 2002 Seven Oaks held their first weekend Motocross race, after being approached the previous fall by an AMA Motocross race promoter. One of the features we offered that made our races unique was round trip chair lift rides during the event. Watching the race from the elevated position was a popular and appreciated opportunity. Seven Oaks also hosted two more outdoor concerts during the summer of 2002 with limited success. It was during this summer we also cleared timber and planted grass seed to open our tent camp grounds. Just prior to the winter of 2002-03, two more Areco snowguns were acquired.
In the summer of 2003 full service kayak floats was added to the canoe float offerings. You-Haul River Tubes were also added to our water activities. An adjoining 150 acres of largely timber was acquired which allowed for expansion of the mountain bike trail. On Labor Day weekend Seven Oaks hosted the first in Iowa 24-Hour Mountain Bike Race in addition to the regular IORCA and IMBCS sanctioned races. Additionally, ski trails were widened and reshaped to better facilitate the growing customer base during the winter and additional snow guns were purchased. We had a huge weekend of Motocross as we hosted the Loretta Lynn Regional Youth Qualifier which brought in excess of 700 riders from 22 states and Canada to Seven Oaks for the three day event. The Regional was in addition to two other District 22 race weekends.
In the summer of 2004 Seven Oaks was host of the one and only JesusFest, an outdoor Christian festival that had terrific performers and limited attendees. We also hosted an AMA Area Qualifier with another great turnout and again we held two other District 22 motocross race weekends. The Prinoth snowcat was traded for a newer Piston Bully snowcat, enhancing the finish of snow for our skiers and riders. The terrain park features continue to expand with more and more rails and boxes being built and placed in the park for snowboarding enthusiasts to ride.
In the summer of 2005 we introduced the full service tube floats, purchased two school buses for shuttling, and opened two paintball fields complete with rental markers and masks. Then in the fall of 2005 an additional 2,900 square feet was added to the lodge with knotty pine interior, 16 foot vaulted ceiling, new tables, chairs and Coal Creek Lounge. This addition opened the opportunity for the Lodge at Seven Oaks to be used for weddings, receptions, rehearsals, reunions, parties and corporate events/meetings.
In 2006 the Keaston surface lift was relocated and the top of the ski trails was raised making easier access to all the trails. In August we initiated Friday After Five at Coal Creek Lounge to provide a smoke free family comfortable setting for a sandwich and drinks after the work week has finished. During the winter of 2006-07 a complete media center was added in the lodge and classroom style tables were purchased for use by corporate events and weddings. The lodge was also facilitated with high speed wireless internet service.
Labor Day weekend of 2007 was our fifth annual 24-Hour Mountain Bike Race plus it was modified to offer a 12-Hour Race as well. In the summer of 2007 an outdoor concrete patio was constructed with tables, chairs and umbrellas for those that wanted to enjoy the outdoors on Friday nights or during their receptions. More canoes, tubes and kayaks were acquired as well as three more buses for shuttling the full service float patrons. It was decided that no motocross races would be scheduled for 2008 as we just don’t like tearing up our lawn! For the winter of 2007-08 the snowmaking pond was doubled in size to give us more snowmaking water, the terrain park was redesigned and our maintenance shop addition was started in the fall of 2007. With Fun Valley closing their ski business in the spring of 2007, we purchased the triple chair lift which was installed at Seven Oaks during the summer of 2008. We added 275 pair of shaped skis in the rental department plus more snowboards and boots are added each year.
The 2008 spring, summer and fall, while starting off very wet, finally settled down which allowed another lodge addition to be constructed. This addition provides new space for ticket and retail sales, restrooms, offices and a conference room. It also allows the lodge to be utilized for reunions, receptions, meetings, etc. without interruptions from patrons checking in for river floats, paintball, mountain biking and so on. A huge amount of dirt was moved to facilitate the unload of another triple chair lift. Again, rains delayed the start but the lift was operational before the winter of 2008-2009.
The summer of 2009 saw the introduction of new river tubes, complete with handles and built in can holders. It was a very busy summer with all the recreation activities as well as a large number of receptions, reunions, parties and company outings at the Lodge. Another ski/snowboard trail named Elwood’s Hideout was constructed, the pond used to hold snowmaking water was again enlarged and more snowboards were added to the rental fleet. Mother Nature was very cooperative during the winter of 2009/10 with lots of fresh snow, maybe in part due to the sacrifice of skis and snowboards made in December to the Snow God! (The sacrifice is now an annual event.)
After finishing the winter season in March 2010, we proceeded with making more improvements that included purchasing an 18-passenger bus for river shuttles, another 10-place canoe rack, more canoes and more river tubes. Little did we know that the summer season would be severely hampered with weeks of rain and flooded river. Additionally for the upcoming winter season of 2010-11 we built another ski trail named Carter’s Crossing, added a second surface lift rope tow in the Schoolyard, purchased an additional snow cat, and added helmets, more skis and snowboards in the rental department. We also constructed a second tent campground for “quiet camping” which will be used during the summer of 2011. In May of 2010 Rick decided to retire from the factory life of 41 years and spend more time at Seven Oaks.
Just before the ski season commenced for the winter of 2010-2011, it was decided to give our rental shop a complete face lift. The winter ended somewhat abruptly with temps in the 60’s in mid February but we were able to hang ’til the first weekend of March and had our annual Spring Splash complete with the infamous pond skim.
The summer of 2011 saw the lodge as busy as ever with weddings, reunions, receptions and company meetings. More river tubes were purchased and used during the busy summer. More rental equipment including skis, snowboards and helmets were ordered for the upcoming 2011-12 winter season, an additional pond was constructed to increase our holding capacity for snow making water and a new pump for snowmaking was purchased.
Keeping family involved in the operation of the business is very important to us. Joel continues to be the General Manager. Our son Jeremy created our slogan “Seven Oaks is Your Destination for Outdoor Recreation” and helps with special events. Our daughter Jill, a graphic designer, created the Seven Oaks logo and designs much of our printed material.
Seven Oaks would not be what it is without our year round staff of Ken Slaba, Mike Dahl, Aaron Greenlee, Brian Markins, Alex Steward and Dee Willett; in addition to our fantastic loyal seasonal staff who for the most part return year after year to take part in offering Iowa outdoor recreation. And our winter volunteer National Ski Patrollers are also a recognizable part of who we are.
A huge “Thank You” to all our customers/friends.