Migis Lodge cookout

LAKE SEBAGO, Maine (Labor Day weekend 2010) — We troop to the lakefront where, after cocktails, we’re served lobster and steamer clams, corn on the cob and corn bread, salad and strawberry short cake. We look out at Lake Sebago—Maine’s second largest—dotted with small islands. It is an exquisitely beautiful scene and oh-so-comfortable. 


I didn’t have to shop, cook or do the dishes or even crack the lobsters. Welcome to Migis Lodge. (www.migis.com).  In a local Native American language Migis means “Place to Steal Away and Rest,” says Tim Porta, who is the second generation to run the place—his 29-year-old son Jed the third generation.


This is a small resort—just 35 cottages—at most, 150 guests. But it is a much loved place with families returning for decades. After the economic crash last year, some families had to cancel, Porta said, making 2009 the worst year he’d seen in more than three decades. Thankfully, this season has been better, he said.

On this last gasp summer weekend, kids line up for waterskiing, play checkers in the lodge in front of the fireplace and horseshoes at the lakefront.  There are some organized activities for the kids and an early children’s dinner so parents can enjoy a leisurely meal. This is another place where men must put on a jacket. Is that a New England thing, I wonder?


“I like that you have to clean up for dinner, “ says Nomi  Bergman, an executive from Syracuse, NY who is here for a fourth visit with her husband and three daughters. “It gets the kids to learn good manners and try new foods.”


Seventeen-year-old Becca Bergman insists the quiet resort is anything but boring—even for a teen. “It is the right combination of being active and vegging out,” she explained.


And for a busy family, it offers that much needed and all too illusive family time, her mom adds.


Migis Lodge is not cheap—it could cost upwards of $1000 a night for a family of four. But you are ensconced in a roomy, well appointed cabin (there are TVS but no phones), served three excellent meals — lunch was a barbeque served lakeside with burgers, chicken and halibut, home-made baked beans, potato salad and coleslaw, ice cream sundaes for desert—and nothing to worry about but how to enjoy yourself.


Sit on your cabin porch and read a book. Play Scrabble, kayak or canoe on the lake, fish from the dock (the kids love that), swim in the lake to a nearby island (no pool here!), play golf or go hike up a mountain nearby. There’s plenty of shopping 45 minutes away at L.L. Bean and other outlet stores in Freeport, ME.  (www.freeportusa.com).


But “most people just put the keys in a drawer and don’t leave once they get here,” Tim Porta said. “We joke that they are getting ‘Migisized’.” 


I’ve only been here 24 hours and feel it already after a busy summer—the massage this morning helped, of course. At night, kids—even those in diapers—are invited to the “zoo” an early kids’ dinner followed by entertainment or crafts so parents can relax.  “Even if kids eat with their parents, they are done in 10 minutes,” observes Jed Porta. “


I don’t know why every resort doesn’t offer such an option—complimentary of course—or a complimentary kids’ program where the kids might make tie-dyed shirts one day or go fishing another soccer or swimming—just so parents and grandparents get a little guilt-free time to themselves to play tennis, read a book or go out fishing with a guide on the big  lake– 12 miles long  and eight miles wide.


This place, like Basin Harbor Club in Vermont (www.basinhaorbor.com), which we visited yesterday, and  Ludlow’s Resort (www.ludlowsresort.com)built on a Minnesota lake island where we went when our kids were small, has a long, storied history.


Migis Lodge first opened in 1916 as a fishing camp ($2 per day all inclusive!).  Eight years later, Luther Gulick, who a boys summer camp (Timanous; http://www.campt.com/) and a girls’ camp (Wohelo) on the neighboring lakefront bought the place—to extend the camp experience to campers’ families. To this day, Porta said, families of campers and past campers going back three generations stay here.


In those early days, wealthy New Yorkers and Bostonians came via train and steamship, which stopped on the dock, settling in for a month at a stretch. In those early years, children under 14 were discouraged as were those not of “Christian Persuasion.”


After another ownership change, Porta’s parents bought the place in 1968, making the resort more welcoming to all families and all faiths.  Tim and his wife—parents of five kids—took over ten years later.


Today more than 70 per cent of guests have been here before, many multigenerational families now spread across the country with grandparents picking up the tab to get everyone together. What a marvelous gift, I think, to give grandchildren—time with cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents in a spot where they can run around, fish from the dock or kayak or water ski every morning.


The cabins are spacious and well appointed with leather sofas, comfortable beds, knotty pine paneling and fireplaces both on the porches and inside. In the fall, for adult weekends (the resort is only open through mid-October), the foliage is glorious, he promises.


Have families’ vacation habits changed over the years? They are far more active, the Portas say. Relaxation these days is having time to play tennis or exercise, Jed Porta says. They are more health conscious about food.  But one thing hasn’t changed…The desire for unfettered time together.


“A lot of quality family time,” says 17 year old Becca Bergman.


Her mom simply smiles.