Highlands Ranch Resort in Mill Creek
By Melissa Mendonca
A Gathering SpaceAugust 2015
By Melissa Mendonca
Photos: Michelle Hickok
In the story of man vs. nature, if a man walks away, nature will reclaim its dominance in any given space. Such is the case of the newly opened Highlands Ranch Resort in Mill Creek. What is now the main building was once a 1970s-era private building created for large family and community gatherings, with a huge kitchen and gathering space.
Abandoned in the 1980s, surrounding seedlings took to vigorous growth, and within a matter of years, passersby couldn’t see the building for the trees.
Kevin Wilsey knew it was there, however, and found himself prone to moments of wonder and yearning when he drove by while visiting from Loomis. Having grown up in Cottonwood in a family that escaped to Mill Creek for vacations, he had attended some of the gatherings at the building and had fond memories of his childhood escapades there. “That’s how I know the area so well,” he says.
When the day came that he drove by with his brother and found a “For Sale” sign on the property, he knew it was time to move that wonder toward action. The initial call set in motion a multi-year journey of negotiating the land sale from the Nature Conservancy, clearing trees from around the building, extensive restoration and the addition of seven boutique cottage units that blend in with the surrounding environment.
When Highlands Ranch Resort opened in June of this year, it was as a labor of love and a challenge to the building sensibilities of Wilsey, a contractor and owner of Discovery Doors in Rocklin, and his partner, Wendy Rehberg, who has trained herself as the innkeeper.
“All of the lumber in this building, for the most part, was milled on the property,” says Wilsey, who just couldn’t part with the wood during the main building’s transformation into a stunning resort that honors its sense of place while emitting a sense of high style and luxury.
“We literally had to strip every wall,” he says. “Pretty much the whole building has been repurposed one way or the other.” Half the fun of exploring the resort is finding the small details that add up to an overall sense of surprise. An old gate post became the legs of the reception area, complete with rusted metal rings and moss clinging to the wood; the massive double doors of the entry way were created from old deck boards. Above the bar hangs a black wrought iron chandelier that the couple commissioned to add a wow factor that matched the rustic yet elegant theme of the place.
The resort building houses An Artisan’s View, a fullservice restaurant under the direction of chef Joe Symmes of Chico; a full bar; and a banquet room for private gatherings of up to 120 people.
The five cottages around the main building have been designed for views that take in the surrounding Childs Meadows, and to provide privacy for their occupants. Two buildings are large and can be split to accommodate two parties, or opened up to be one big home for larger groups. The remaining three buildings are designed as romantic getaways.
Tying the buildings together is a fire pit in the middle of the walkways leading to each cottage. It welcomes occupants to come out and enjoy the community of the resort and the stunning night sky.
For as much as Wilsey and Rehberg have done to create a beautiful place of welcome and relaxation, they also know the surrounding beauty of Mill Creek and Lassen Volcanic National Park are the real draw to the area. “We want people to get out, enjoy the park, go fishing, enjoy the lake and then come back here and relax,” says Wilsey. After much debate, they even decided not to put TVs in the bar so that guests can truly unplug and get away from it all.
As he stops to reflect on the time, effort and details it’s taken to get to his opening day, a period of more than five years that included him selling his 5-acre property and home in Loomis, Wilsey says, “It was a pretty big leap of faith.” But he adds, “This has always been a dream.”
The story of Highlands Ranch Resort rewrites the narrative of man vs. nature to one that finds man and woman in harmony with nature, able to appreciate the wonders of forests, meadows and mountains while attending to the human need to unwind and rejuvenate in beauty.
Highlands Ranch Resort
41515 Hwy 36 East • Mill Creek
www.highlandsranchresort.com • (530) 595-3388