WESTMORE — Eric Bogie and Michelle Laferriere are Northeast Kingdom natives with deep roots and big dreams — for their family and the region.
The husband and wife are embarking on their third business together with the purchase in October of the White Caps Campground on the shore of Lake Willoughby — and they could not be happier.
By day Bogie is the athletic director and physical education teacher at the Barnet School. Laferriere is a speech-language pathologist.
The couple also operates Dream Acres together in West Burke, built around Laferriere’s speech-language therapy profession and a longtime dream for her business using animals to help children communicate.
They also have a property management business in St. Johnsbury.
Investing in the campground with a vision to maintain it for locals and visitors is a sign of their hope for the region, said the couple.
“This is a big deal to have a local couple be able to take something like this over and protect it for the Northeast Kingdom,” Bogie said. “A lot of times sales like this go to larger organizations or people from down south, they come in, and they snap it up and try to commercialize it; we just want to protect it.”
“This is such a great area,” Laferriere echoed. “I think the Northeast Kingdom is a great place to have a business and a family. When things went hard, everybody wanted to be here.”
An example is that even with the U.S.-Canada border closed for months during the pandemic, the White Caps Campground still had an incredibly positive year, points out Bogie.
The 18-acre campground has long drawn visitors locally, and in the past five years, since getting national and international press attention, has become more popular than ever.
In addition to the campground, which has many seasonal campers — people who set up for the entire season, and short-term sites including tent sites and cabins — White Caps also offers a camp store that sells sandwiches, pizza “and lots of yummy things,” according to Laferriere.
White Caps also has a busy rental business for kayaks and other gear and often sees dorm students come for trips from Lyndon Institute and St. Johnsbury Academy, as well as the students and their families, said Bogie.
Hikers, too, on the many nearby state forest trails, and beachgoers, all flock to the bustling summer campground.
“It’s a huge service to this area to have this place open,” says Bogie.
Laferriere said during the pandemic; many people were home more with their families, “… And I think people are going to want more of that,” saying camping offers the opportunity for quality family time.
Bogie said the couple learned a lot about running a business from their families growing — both grew up in family businesses — and the grit and hard work it takes to weather the ups and downs.
They are eager to preserve and build on the campground business for their young family and said their teenage children are working hard, too, and excited about helping make the campground a success.
The couple is also looking forward to working with the State of Vermont to keep the area safe and manage visitors’ level to Willoughby, emphasized Bogie.
The couple began camping at White Camps just a few days at a time, and early on, Laferriere, in an uncharacteristically bold move, said she went into the office and announced they either needed to become seasonal campers or buy the campground — they loved it that much.
The prior owners, Doug and Bari Fischer, knew for a few years the couple was interested in buying the campground, and this year the time was right to pass the baton.
Few changes are planned, Bogie said.
The couple like White Caps the way it is and plan to maintain what the Fischers have built in their 15 years owning the property.
“Camping here is really like real camping; it’s back to the basics, there’s no swimming pool, there are no big events to draw people,” said Bogie.
The draw is the nature … the mountains, the lake across the street, and the friendly people who enjoy one another’s company and become a summertime neighborhood together each year.
Bogie said, “It’s affordable for all families. I think that’s why it’s been taking off the last few years.”
The couple is keeping the same name for the campground, they said, without question.
Laferriere said as a speech-language pathologist, she thinks about the name and what it symbolizes — sometimes you can see white caps on the lake surface, and some days there are white caps on the mountain, so the name is perfect, she said. She talked about one recent morning hearing ice falling from the mountaintops on a serene walk through the area.
“We want to keep this place what it was meant to be, it started as White Caps, and we want to keep it as White Caps,” said Bogie.
The campground has been around since the 1970s.
About five years ago, word of the campground and Lake Willoughby spread to Canada through the media there, and it was featured in Yankee Magazine, then The Boston Globe, leading to a rise in popularity.
White Caps was named among the top 10 campgrounds in New England in The Boston Globe article.
Bogie said the campground is like a big family, and that was part of the draw.
The couple has two children, Aiden, 16, and Jazmine, 14, both at Lyndon Institute.
“Michelle came from a big business family,” said Bogie, saying they both went into education after college and did not intend at first to become entrepreneurs. Still, they ended up embarking on building the Dream Acres homestead and farm together and taking over her late father Dennis’s business property in St. Johnsbury, “It’s his legacy,” said Laferriere.
Their children plan to help out in the campground business, in the store, and helping with the kayak business on the property.
The family began camping about 10 years ago at White Caps and fell in love with the place almost immediately, they shared.
“That’s part of why we’re doing this; it was really nice for us to get away as a family and be able to relax,” said Laferriere.
Embarking on the campground dream with their families helping out, “It’s a love story of three generations,” Laferriere said — both their parents and the “grit and hard work and our love for the Northeast Kingdom,” and their hope to build a business that can be passed onto the third generation, their children.
“We stumbled upon this beautiful local treasure White Caps and Willoughby Lake,” said Laferriere. “This one place encompasses all of the things that are so important to us; The Northeast Kingdom, family, making connections, hard work, business, recreation, and giving back to the community. We (all three generations) are going to work for many decades, continuing the legacy of sharing this local Northeast Kingdom treasure.”
Bogie said the couple is grateful to Community National Bank and the Granite State Economic Development Corporation, both of whom “was fantastic,” saying the local lenders “tirelessly worked on our behalf to ensure we found a financial structure that would work for us. We are very pleased with the service we received and can’t thank them enough.”
Two of the longtime campers at White Caps this week offered thoughts on the campground’s transition to new ownership.
Lee White said, “I have been seasonal at White Caps for the last 13 years. I met Michelle, Eric, and family soon after they became seasonals (camping all season long) a couple of years ago. They are a great young couple with two very well-rounded kids. I was elated to hear that they have purchased the campground for several reasons. First and foremost, I feel confident that they will manage it similar to the previous owners, carrying on the traditions of this gem in the NEK. They have lots of energy and a love for the campground that is just going to foster improvements and new ventures. I wish them all the best in this new undertaking.”
Lisa and Tim Eberhardt are also campers at White Caps and offered this, “We are absolutely thrilled that Eric and Michelle are the new owners of White Caps! They are two of the nicest people you will ever meet, and we know that they will keep the family-friendly atmosphere that we love about the campground. We look forward to spending many more seasons in the most beautiful place.”
Bogie and Laferriere say the campers have become their extended family, and they could not be happier about being the new stewards of their beloved White Caps.
They can’t wait for the spring season when everyone comes back, and the fire pits are going again, boats are out on the lake, and the camp store and rental shop are bustling with people having fun and making memories.
“I love this campground; it’s our happy place,” said Laferriere, looking at her husband and smiling. “It’s our happy place.”