Jellystone owners away at time of blaze

Published 9:09 am Thursday, October 13, 2011

Fire destroyed the main building at Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp & Resort east of Austin early Sunday morning. -- Eric Johnson/Albert Lea Tribune

AUSTIN — When Tammy Westrich, co-owner of Jellystone Park, saw the remnants of the main lodge after it burned down early Sunday morning, she knew right away she wanted to rebuild.

“There’s nothing salvageable,” said Westrich, who co-owns the campground with her husband, Ken. “One way or another, we will prevail. We’re going to rebuild.”

The Westrichs were in San Diego, Calif., to attend Tammy’s son’s Marine Corps graduation when they got the news. Westrich, who lives in a house at the campground, said she got a call around 4 a.m. that the ranger station was on fire. Her teenage children confirmed the news over the phone as they looked at the flaming building from their house at the campground.

“They said, ‘Mommy, it’s bad,’” Westrich said. “It was everything. It’s all gone.

“We’re just kind of shocked and scared.”

Despite the shock, Westrich is sure she and her husband will rebuild. The fire could have caused much more damage than it did, she said. Westrich said she and her family are very thankful to the firefighters who worked for several hours to contain the fire, which was reportedly caused by an electrical malfunction.

Westrich is also thankful no damage was done to the Yogi Bear statue that stands near the ranger station.

“You feel like you’re being punched in the stomach as hard as you can, but you open your eyes and our big statue of Yogi Bear is just standing there, and he should have burned,” Westrich said. “The paint didn’t peel off of him; he’s just standing there proud.”

The ranger station and everything in it was a total loss. The building housed the campground’s offices, dining room, restaurant, gift shop, arcade room, teen hangout room, laundry room and bathrooms with showers.

Westrich’s son spent two months last summer power washing and lacquering the outside of the building, and the Westrichs put down new tile less than a year ago.

“That was our big project,” Westrich said. “We were so proud of ourselves.”

Many residents know the Jellystone Park campground by its former name of Beaver Trails.

Though the campground closes for the year on Friday, the Westrichs will be plenty busy beginning the process of rebuilding. Westrich said she is determined to be open in the spring, and she’s hoping they can start construction before winter.

Ideas for the new building are still budding, but Westrich said she wants it to be more modern while still keeping a hometown feel.

“To us, it’s not just a business,” she said. “We treat everyone who comes into this park as part of our Jellystone family.

“The love, the friendships that are made here — it’s not just a campground. It’s a place where memories are made.”