The quality of experience for a Fossil Rim Wildlife Center overnight guest has been on the rise ever since Bill Brown took the helm as lodging manager in March 2016.
He recalls an array of adventures that led up to this point.
“I started in lodging by purchasing a ski lodge in Winter Park, Colorado with a partner,” Brown said. “After nine months, I sold my portion to him and bought another property for myself in Winter Park. I ran that one for 23 years. During my time in Winter Park, I owned and managed WoodSpur Ski Lodge, Winter Haven Ski Lodge, Adolpf’s Saloon and Timing Shack Lounge.”
The hospitality field actually caught Brown’s attention years earlier.
“After I got out of college and (military) service, I jokingly told my granddad I wanted to go on vacation,” Brown said. “He said that’s the profession I should go into.”
Sometime later, while managing a condo resort in Red River, New Mexico, Brown met his current wife, Cricket. They remained in New Mexico; as Brown went on to manage the 120,000-acre East Moreno Ranch.
“It was a working ranch that was converted into a dude ranch that people from the city would visit,” he said. “We built a pro rodeo arena, an 18-hole golf course, offered trophy elk hunting and fishing, plus Cowboy Evening Dinners with famous musicians entertaining.”
These previous experiences prepared Brown for what he would see and learn during his time working for the United States Department of Defense.
“I met people from the Pentagon who came for the grand opening ceremonies of the 400-room military lodge at Fort Bragg Army Base in North Carolina,” Brown said. “They told me the Navy was looking for someone with my skillset. Six months later, I was hired to manage the navy lodging at bases throughout North America, Europe, Puerto Rico and Cuba. It was a great opportunity to learn and travel.”
Brown retired in 2008, but his wife could tell he was not done just yet. She would later suggest he pursue the Fossil Rim opportunity.
“We have a house on Lake Granbury near several other Fossil Rim employees,” Brown said. “This has been my first full-time job since retirement, and it’s a wonderful opportunity that I really enjoy. I love the challenges and have a great bunch of people to work with, so it’s been very rewarding.”
The key to his management style relates to all the transitions Brown has made.
“Management changes with each new situation you are put into,” he said. “As the facilities and locations change, I adapt to the culture I’m in – make it work.”
Brown is very pleased with his current staff, which addresses all visitor needs at The Lodge and the Foothills Safari Cabins. His cast of characters include breakfast cook Frankie Thompson, breakfast/dinner cook Dawn Sorrells, maintenance engineer Ted Poe and lodge associates Summer Phifer, Aina Carlson, Tina Tracer and Dallas Burch.
“My staff is doing a great job in all phases,” Brown said. “We were very fortunate to get Ted on board. He’s been a really good find and is quite skilled in carpentry, electrical work and plumbing to go with a good work ethic. Before he joined us, I was asking so much from the Fossil Rim Support Services staff.
“My cooks are very skilled and they consistently produce quality cuisine. My lodge associates put forth a great effort to meet all guests’ needs.”
The original “ranch house” for the property, The Lodge is now a five-room bed and breakfast.
“Location, location, location,” Brown said when asked about its selling points. “It’s priced right, you get a full breakfast, a free Scenic Wildlife Drive and it’s very comfortable here.”
When making decisions, Brown tries to adopt the customer perspective.
“I know that customers seek value,” he said.
Each lodge room is named after a different bird: Peregrine, Parrot, Attwater, Egret and Hummingbird.
“The two rooms downstairs – Egret and Hummingbird – share a bath,” he said. “That works out well for large families. We have two rooms on the second floor – Parrot and Attwater – with king beds. The Parrot has a Jacuzzi.
“The Peregrine is on the third floor and also has a Jacuzzi. It’s the romantic room. We’ve had several anniversaries celebrated in The Lodge, and I think it’s a good venue for a variety of different events.”
There are plenty of ways to relax at The Lodge.
“We have a game room with a TV,” Brown said. “Our ‘Great Room’ also has a TV, plus it’s a huge room with a kitchen and dining room that we utilize for parties. Every room except the Peregrine has a nice patio area where people can sit and watch the exotic and native animals.”
Speaking of animals, species that can be seen from The Lodge include addax, sable, gemsbok, waterbuck, deer and wild turkeys.
For a different overnight experience, Fossil Rim has seven Foothills Safari Cabins.
“The cabins are well-received by families,” Brown said. “There are two single beds with full bath per cabin, and I’ve begun providing an air mattress that fits between the beds for guests upon request. That way, a cabin can accommodate two adults and one child. The cabins are now decorated based on the animal they’re named after, and like the rooms at The Lodge, it is important to me the cabins are comfortable and clean.”
All the same animals from The Lodge can be seen from the cabins, as well as greater sandhill cranes. Good food is a part of nearly any quality lodging experience, and the Fossil Rim facilities are no different.
“Just like clean towels and sheets, air conditioning and heat, food is very important,” Brown said. “Hot and tasty with a good presentation – you’ve got to deliver a quality product.”
Breakfast is served every morning for guests from The Lodge and the cabins inside the glass-walled pavilion at Foothills Safari Camp.
“In the morning, we have a full breakfast buffet,” Brown said. “Guests who have scheduled a morning safari tour are picked up directly from the camp after breakfast. Additionally, all lodging guests receive a voucher for a free Scenic Wildlife Drive and we encourage them to take it the afternoon they arrive, especially if they are planning a guided tour the following morning.”
Guests of either facility can bring their own alcohol, and dinner can be provided.
“We serve dinner Friday and Saturday nights by reservation only,” Brown said. “Request a menu while making your reservations.”
Brown highly recommends stargazing on a clear night from either location.
For more information on all aspects of Fossil Rim lodging, call 254.898.4268, check out http://www.fossilrim.org/lodging.php or follow “Fossil Rim Wildlife Center” on Facebook to see the latest news.
“The Lodge and the Foothills Safari Cabins are quite different, but both allow you to get a safari experience without spending thousands of dollars,” Brown said. “This is also a great venue for small group events, so please let us customize your special occasion.”
-Tye Chandler, Marketing Associate