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Bill Barnes
Mountain Harbor Resort and Spa

Bill Barnes

Over 55 years ago, a man named Hal Barnes discovered a beautiful lake in the heart of the Ouachita National Forest. Before returning home, Hal submitted a proposal to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a lease on a harbor. Today, the Mountain Harbor Resort on Lake Ouachita is operated by Hal's son Bill Barnes and his team.

At its founding in 1955, Mt. Harbor was a small fishing post. But all that changed in 1971 when Bill became active in the business. Bill is the epitome of a creative businessman, evident by the "natural state" empire he and his family have built.

Though born in Wyoming, Bill grew up in the hills of Mount Ida, and he is as much an outdoorsman and community activist as he is a businessman. He has a long list of appointments ranging from boards on travel and commerce to chief of a fire department. His honors include several tourism awards and induction into the Arkansas Hospitality Hall of Fame. Governor Sanders recently added Bill as a new member of the Office of Outdoor Advisory Committee.

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Listen to Learn:

  • About Bill's business acumen and his family's Tri-Pennant corporate umbrella
  • Fishing and outdoor activities on the lake
  • The history of the corp of engineers' lake formations and dams, and more...

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[0:00:09] GM: Welcome to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy, a production of flagandbanner.com. Through storytelling and conversational interviews, this weekly radio show and podcast offers listeners an insider's view into the life of an entrepreneur, the commonalities of successful people and the ups and downs of risk taking. And now it's time for Kerry McCoy to get all up in your business.

[0:00:30] KM: Thank you, son, Gray. My guest today and his family have been helping Arkansans connect with nature for years, Mr. Bill Barnes, owner-operator of Mountain Harbor Marina Resort & Spa.

Where is Mountain Harbor? It's nestled in the Ouachita Mountains with a Mount Ida zip code. Where is Mount Ida? It's just down the road. About 13 miles from Hot Springs Arkansas on Highway 270.

Mount Harbor, as the locals call it, was founded in 1955 by Bill's father, Mr. Hal Barnes. At the time, it was a small fishing post. But that all changed when, in 1971, Bill became active in the business.

As mentioned in the opening, business is creative. Bill is the epitome of a creative businessman evident by the natural state empire he and his family have built. Though young Bill may have been born in Casper, Wyoming, he grew up in these hills. It is in his DNA.

On top of being an excellent businessman and congenial boss, Bill is a community activist apparent by his long list of appointments and special honors. Recently, Governor Sanders added him as a new member to the Office of Outdoor Advisory Committee.

Today we're going to talk about Bill's business acumen, his trident family corporate umbrella and learn about fishing and outdoor activities on the lake. Tourism in Arkansas. And here's some history about the corps of engineers, lake formations and dams in Southern Arkansas.

It is with great pleasure I welcome to the table the outdoorsman, businessman and community activist, Mr. Bill Barnes.

[0:02:15] BB: Well.

[0:02:16] KM: All true. I've been reading about you. It's all very true. Your dad, Hal, came to visit Arkansas and he happened upon Lake Ouachita. I don't know how, because it was like miles down a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. Tell us how he ended up here and what he saw. That's got to be a good story.

[0:02:34] BB: You just tickle me. Here's this wonderful entrepreneurial lady of many, many years, four decades –

[0:02:41] KM: Yeah.

[0:02:42] BB: – that is talking about me when I am the one that admires you.

[0:02:46] KM: Oh, thanks, Bill.

[0:02:47] BB: Really. I mean, I've been following your company since I was at Harbor to start with.

[0:02:51] KM: Really?

[0:02:52] BB: It's important that we fly American flags and demonstrate our patriotism.

[0:02:57] KM: You've always been a great customer.

[0:02:58] BB: Well, it's because we want to buy the best flags because they last a long time.

[0:03:01] GM: That's right.

[0:03:01] KM: They do. And they're made in America. You want to make sure you buy made in America. I'll tell you something really interesting about American flags, US flags. They are made in New Jersey by a company that is seven generations. You, you're second generation. My kids are working in mine. They're the second generation. This company is seven generations old of making American flags.

[0:03:22] BB: Do you know how rare that is?

[0:03:24] KM: Incredibly rare.

[0:03:24] BB: Any country in any world. Because typically, third generation is the beginning of the failure of the generations of that company.

[0:03:32] KM: What do they say? First generation starts, second generation builds and third generation loses it.

[0:03:38] BB: Or fourth.

[0:03:39] KM: Or fourth. Well, don't think they don't get lots of offers from people to want to buy them? Big companies want to buy them. But they don't sell out.

[0:03:49] BB: That's because they have a love and a passion and too much history. I think it's just like talking to Megan and looking at Gray. I mean, there's history here with you guys. And that's just – thanks to you, you know? And your foresight. Well, both of you.

[0:04:04] KM: Yeah. My kids coming to work for their mom. I mean, come on. That can't be easy. Is it easy, Gray?

[0:04:08] GM: No comment.

[0:04:10] BB: Yeah. Well, I can't tell you how many times I resigned from my job with my dad or he fired me.

[0:04:16] GM: Yeah. I was going to say, we have jokes about how many times my sister has been fired. Yeah.

[0:04:20] KM: She's the oldest. She came here first or she came here too young. After she came here at so young age, we made a rule that nobody could come to work at Arkansas Flag and Banner until they were 30 years old. Of course, we broke it. But you do need to be a little bit more mature. But anyway, tell us about your dad.

[0:04:33] BB: Okay. Well, the way I ended up in Arkansas, I was born in Wyoming. As you mentioned, Casper. Dad was from Oklahoma. Mother was from Malvern, Arkansas. They married at the University of Arkansas in the 20s. Dad got out of college in 33 with a degree in law from Fayetteville.

[0:04:57] KM: Now, wait. Your mother was from Malvern.

[0:04:59] BB: Mm-hmm. Dad was from Miami, Oklahoma.

[0:05:02] KM: But he went to Fayetteville.

[0:05:03] BB: Went to Fayetteville.

[0:05:05] KM: Met your mother.

[0:05:06] BB: Oh, my dad – you know how dad got through college? He got a job as the house boy in the Pi Phi house.

[0:05:14] KM: Oh, he's smart.

[0:05:14] BB: He lived in the Pi Phi house as the house boy and got paid to do it. Dad met mom, married her in the late 20s. Dad graduated in 33, degree in law. Mom graduating too. Couldn't get a job as a lawyer.

[0:05:30] KM: Interesting.

[0:05:31] BB: Depression, horrible times. Ended up selling shoes. Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Dad enlisted. Dad's friend from Malvern that had married my mother's best friend, Dorthy, enlisted with him. They went to OCS together because they both had college degrees.

Dad came out as a lieutenant, evolved into a captain, was the troop commander on a troop ship. Dad went four years during the war on a Liberty Ship transporting 4, 000 American soldiers to England or on to France after D-Day and bringing back the dead and the wounded for four years.

[0:06:18] KM: Oh, my gosh. Your dad is bringing back – that had to be –

[0:06:23] BB: Oh, it was awful.

[0:06:24] KM: I can't imagine.

[0:06:26] BB: Well, he did the whole four years. Got out. By then, he decided he didn't want to be a lawyer. He got a job working for a fellow named Jeff Hawks who became one of his best friends in Casper as the attorney for a mineral rights leasing company.

They contracted with the oil companies to go out to all these ranchers and get mineral rights leases because they were striking oil all over Wyoming, and Montana and Colorado. That's what dad did well until we moved to Arkansas.

[0:07:05] KM: And he was in Arkansas probably looking for mineral rights?

[0:07:09] BB: No. He worked out of Casper working Montana, Wyoming – well, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado. So, we lived in Casper. I was born –

[0:07:18] KM: But how did he end up coming to – oh, I'm sorry.

[0:07:20] BB: I'm going to tell you. Hang on, boss. Because Caldwell, dad's best friend, also survived the war – and my mother had multiple sclerosis before I was born. She was sick when I was born. Dad would drive her back to Malvern to see her folks. Caldwell lived in Malvern.

In 1954, Caldwell, while dad was in Malvern with mom and I was – let's see. 54. I was six years old. Yes, I was six years old. Caldwell invited dad to go fishing on this new lake called Ouachita that was about a third and a half full.

We went to Brady Mountain, went fishing. I still remember standing on the dock as a little boy looking out at the lake. I had never ever, ever seen that much water in my life.

[0:08:17] KM: Right.

[0:08:18] BB: So, we went fishing. Caldwell told dad that the corps was offering leases. And if he would apply for one, Caldwell would run it for him. It was never dad's intent to come back.

At that point, dad was involved in oil in Wyoming and Colorado and was involved in the forming of the first company to build the first cable TV system. Those were his friends out there.

He wrote the lease application. Was accepted. Was assigned Joplin. And I really don't know whether dad picked Joplin or the corps said you're going to get Joplin. I don't know. But it was a great choice.

Dad invested and harbor started as four boat stalls, a tackle shop about as big as the room we're sitting in, and one guest front and a hundred fishing boats. Anyway, we started renting boats. The way that we rented boats back then – now, there were no bass boats. There was nothing even close to a bass boat. People owned motors. They kept them in the trunk of their cars.

[0:09:32] KM: No way.

[0:09:33] BB: And if they were fairly well-to-do people, they had a trolling motor. The two major brands were Silvertrol and Minn Kota and they would be in the trunk of the cars. We would open at four in the morning. And there would be – but I still remember, there would be cars lined up all the way out of sight. Next time you come to Harbor, I'll show you where we worked. With people waiting to rig out their boats and go fishing.

They would be backed up to the gang plank. And at 12, 13 years old down there at four o'clock in the morning in a pair of cut-offs, no shirt, no shoes, we would start lifting. We would get a boat off the bank or out of the pond and put it into one of the stalls. Wash it out. Bring it up on what we call the wash rack, which was just a platform. Kick it up on its side. Take a bucket. Throw some water in it to wash the mini dirt out and the worm dirt out from the day before. Put it into a stall. Tie it off. Go up to the car. Get the motor out, the gas tank out, the trolling motor, the battery, the tackle boxes. Carry everything down. Put it in the boat. Fill out a boat card. Put paddles and boat cushions in, seat cushions in and then rent it to you. And if it was a 14-foot low side, it was $2. A14-foot high side, 2.50. And a 16-foot was $3. And we'd push them out. Well by 6, or 6:30, or 7, we had all 100 boats out.

[0:11:22] KM: Wow. How many kids were –

[0:11:23] BB: There were probably four of us working.

[0:11:25] KM: That's working fast. You can't teach that kind of work ethic to kids today because they don't have the same opportunities that you had. I mean, today there would be so many OSHA problems with what you said. You're barefoot in cut-offs with no shirt on taking motors down to a boat. Pushing these guys out. I mean, your insurance would go crazy. And you're underage. I don't know how you – starting that young is so good for teaching you a strong work ethic. Now I know how you got your piece of land from the corps. How big was the very first shoreline that you had?

[0:12:03] BB: Okay. The original lease that dad had was about 40 acres.

[0:12:09] KM: What is it today?

[0:12:10] BB: We have 450 acres under lease and another 450 acres of residential areas around it. See, one of the really unique things, and I'll fast forward to that just very quickly, is the land for Ouachita was purchased in the 30s. And the intent was hydroelectric and flood control partially because Hamilton and Catherine were building as residential areas. Big, big homes back then even. And they would flood because there was no control mechanism above. Ouachita was a really big deal hydroelectric lake, but it was also a flood control lake to help stabilize Hamilton and Catherine down below.

[0:12:55] KM: They were already in existence.

[0:12:56] BB: Mm-hmm. Catherine was 20s and Hamilton was 30s.

[0:12:59] KM: Were they created by dams also?

[0:13:02] BB: They're created by dams. Both of them concrete dams. Both of those lakes were built by Arkansas Power and Light. Ouachita is such a benefit to our state now. But the way it got there, the land was condemned. The people were paid fair market value for it according to the government.

[0:13:23] KM: Yeah.

[0:13:25] BB: There was horrible ill will.

[0:13:26] KM: I bet.

[0:13:28] BB: When dad moved – well, dad moved our family the day I got out of the second grade. The reason he moved was because – you've got a picture. It was a dirt road to a dirt parking lot with a hundred fishing boats and a gas pump. And then even after the lodge was built, it was still a dirt road to dirt parking lots. And it was just really hard to make a living. And water sports, water recreation as we know it now, wasn't even a gleam in anybody's eye at that point.

[0:14:05] KM: And seasonal.

[0:14:05] BB: And very seasonal.

[0:14:07] KM: How long was is that road?

[0:14:08] BB: Two and a half miles.

[0:14:09] KM: That's a long dirt road.

[0:14:11] GM: Oh, yeah.

[0:14:12] KM: And windy.

[0:14:14] BB: And I walked out so many barefoot because the only kid around to play with was down at the highway.

[0:14:20] KM: No, you did not.

[0:14:20] BB: Oh, yes. I did.

[0:14:22] KM: You are country through and through.

[0:14:24] GM: Country.

[0:14:25] BB: Walking down a dirt road barefooted to go play with a buddy? I mean, you know, when Dad wasn't working me for free. Picking up rocks, or cutting trees, or whatever. But after about two years, the place got in trouble.

[0:14:42] KM: Your dad's place?

[0:14:43] BB: Mm-hmm. Dad got in trouble. Now he was in Denver. He would spend some time in Arkansas, but most of the time back at his real job in Denver. He worked out alone with the SBA to bail him out. But the SBA said – and my dad's first name was Hal. Said, "Hal, you have to move to Arkansas and take it over yourself or we won't loan you the money." Dad had to come to Arkansas and meet with Caldwell, his dear friend, and tell him that he had to take it over himself. And that was tough.

My mom, I still remember, we lived in an 8 by 28 trailer at Mountain Harbor after we moved. And I still remember dad made me, and my mother and my brother sit on a log about 100 feet from the trailer while he and Caldwell had multiple drinks. And Dad told Caldwell that he was going to have to take it over. I remember that.

I mean, we sat out there. It seemed like all night. Now, it wasn't. But –

[0:15:52] KM: Had Cadwell take it.

[0:15:54] BB: Not good. Dad couldn't help it. He had to have the financing. And only two and a half percent of the shoreline on Ouachita has ever been developed. It's all wilderness.

[0:16:05] KM: How much?

[0:16:06] BB: Two and a half percent.

[0:16:07] GM: I've read that before. That's why it's so nice out there because it's not just seeing a sea of row houses and stuff as you ride along.

[0:16:15] BB: And you never will. It was built from an – as I understand it, every lake was built from a specific act of Congress. Now, this doesn't count Hamilton or Catherine because those were built by the power company. But DeGray, Greeson, Greers Ferry, Beaver those are all acts of Congress.

Ouachita was built with the intent to control all the shoreline. They offered over 20 lease sites, but only, I want to say, 14 or 15 were accepted. The corps also promised the investors that, and going back to business, that once they closed the invitation to make offers for leases, they would never reopen it.

And, Kerry, the reason that they need to do that is it's kind of like you bought this building to make flags and then the city solicited for other flag manufacturers to come into Little Rock. The corps said, "You guys build this right. You meet the needs of the –" now, there was a caveat in there. "You meet the needs of the public and we will never offer additional leases." I spent my whole life building Mountain Harbor and then they open up six more leases and we have Hyatts and Sheridans, which was the right thing to do.

[0:17:34] KM: You know, Bill, you make it look easy having all those cabins, and condos, and boat docks and restaurants. You're like, "Oh, he's just printing money over there." It's not easy. People are going belly-up trying to do the same thing you're doing.

[0:17:48] GM: He's got it in his blood.

[0:17:51] BB: Okay, first and foremost, God wired me to do this. I mean, really, truly, I thank God every day that I can wake up at Mountain Harbor. That I get to serve people. I thank God every night that I can go to sleep at Mountain Harbor. I really do.

I love serving people. I just love it. Now that doesn't mean I love everybody every minute of every day. But I love serving people. I'm where I need to be. And Harbor start – we're we're 69 years old. And I've been there – this is my 56th year full-time. You're not ever going to catch me, girl. Because I'm going to be there ‘till I die.

I worked all of my life as a kid at Harbor. Went to Fayetteville two years. Took business, because there were no hospitality schools in Arkansas at that point. Dad was getting in trouble. We had been in financial trouble three times.

[0:18:53] KM: See? There you go. It's just not easy.

[0:18:55] BB: No, it's not. And so, I would go to school the fall semester. Then I would work spring semester and summer for Dad.

[0:19:05] KM: The season.

[0:19:06] BB: Go back to school the fall semester. Well, the last semester, I was at Forest Park College in St Louis, because it was a brand-new hotel and restaurant school. I had been to Oklahoma State the year before. Learned that a fellow named Jack Miller was the director of the school at Forest Park.

I called Jack that summer and said, "I'm not looking for a degree. I just need training." He waived all the prerequisites I had taken hotel and restaurant at OSU. Went to St Louis. Worked for him in the evenings. He had a catering company. And took hotel – just took all the hotel and restaurant courses that I could take. Came home for Christmas and found out that the IRS was filing foreclosure on my dad. This was winter of '70.

[0:19:57] KM: Over back taxes?

[0:19:58] BB: Mm-hmm. Three years. I left school. Called Jack, told him I wouldn't be back. Left school and went to work full-time January of '71. And my first meeting in January was with the IRS. I knew a couple of the men because they'd been out to talk to dad.

[0:20:18] KM: How old are you?

[0:20:18] GM: I was going to say, what are you? Like, 23?

[0:20:19] KM: Yeah, how old are you?

[0:20:20] BB: I was 22.

[0:20:21] GM: Oh, my gosh.

[0:20:22] KM: Gray, this guy has got some big paired – okay. Keep going.

[0:20:28] BB: No. It's not that at all.

[0:20:30] KM: Necessity.

[0:20:31] BB: When you're backed in a corner and you have nowhere to go and nowhere to live and it's your home, Gray, you would take the same position if somebody tried to walk in this building and take it.

[0:20:41] GM: Absolutely.

[0:20:42] BB: You'd meet him at the front steps.

[0:20:43] GM: That's right. That's crazy.

[0:20:45] BB: Or farther down the road.

[0:20:47] KM: Or in the alley.

[0:20:48] GM: Yeah. Moving out by the time they get in the front steps.

[0:20:50] BB: But I knew two of the IRS agents. I went in to see him in January at the Federal Building in Hot Springs. Had no clue where it was. And just sat down and said, "If you will give me a chance – I am back here full time. I will be at work every day. I will answer every phone call every day. If you will give me a chance, I will pay you." And they said, "What do you need?" And I said, "I need seven years." They waived all the interest, all the penalties and gave me seven years.

[0:21:21] GM: Wow.

[0:21:22] KM: You know, the government's been good to you.

[0:21:25] GM: Yeah.

[0:21:26] BB: I don't think that would happen now. But those men were – they were so fair. Now, I also was at work every day. And I was also there every day when they came out to see me. And I paid them every dollar when I said I would when I couldn't pay other people sometimes.

[0:21:42] KM: What's the first thing you did when you went back? What was the first thing? You said, "Dad, we got seven years." What's the first thing you did?

[0:21:49] BB: The first thing I did, honestly, was look at Dad's pricing structure.

[0:21:54] KM: Raise the prices. That's always a small business' weakness.

[0:21:57] BB: Well, here's why. One of the things that small business always needs to be is fair. Business 101 then and today is a good product or a great product at a fair price with dedicated personal service. Now that's what we stay in business with every day, in and out. Whether it's yours or mine or anybody else here.

Dad's price structure, we had like 60 boat stalls and about 40 trailers in the park. But his price structure, some of his prices he hadn't gone up in 11 years. I sat down and raised everything $50 dollars a year.

[0:22:47] KM: Big difference.

[0:22:49] BB: Well, I survived. Now the first thing I had was a total rebellion of dad's buddies. How can you let your son raise prices like that?

[0:22:59] KM: I'm glad your dad lay you. He might not have laid you.

[0:23:04] BB: No. He knew he had to step back. And he knew there was really no way to do it but just to stay and work. There were two of us on duty in the winter. Two employees. We hauled rock, cleared land. Did all that in the winter. Because as you mentioned earlier, we had about a four-month season. It's a whole lot different now. But it was truly four months. And there were times, Gray, in the winter when we wouldn't see a car for a week.

[0:23:35] GM: Sure.

[0:23:36] BB: I mean, any car.

[0:23:37] KM: Well, you had a dirt road going down there for two and a half miles with muddy. I wouldn't go down there either.

[0:23:42] BB: Well, there you go. And that's exactly why.

[0:23:43] KM: You know what I think is interesting, is when you were talking about the levels of the lake levels or sea level at 578 is average. And how much the shoreline fluctuates when it's at its average. There are 700 miles of shoreline on Lake Ouachita.

[0:23:59] BB: Mainland shoreline. 300 miles of island shoreline. There's a thousand miles of total shorelines.

[0:24:07] KM: For anybody that hasn't been to Lake Ouachita, there are islands out in the center. So you put in, you get in your boat. Even if it's a Jon boat. I've gone out there in Jon boats. And you go out there and you throw out your tent, throw out your sleeping bag, collect some firewood, get you some whiskey and sit by fire all night long with nobody around on your own little Gilligan's island. It is fantastic.

[0:24:34] GM: It's fantastic.

[0:24:35] BB: You're wonderful. Because one of the unique things about Ouachita is there is no island restriction or island camping restriction. That's pretty unique.

[0:24:44] KM: That's very unique.

[0:24:45] BB: Folks can camp on any of the islands. Now we ask them, please – and 99% do. Please bring all your trash out. Bag everything. bring it out. Occasionally, there's somebody that's absolutely thoughtless and ought to be put in jail that leaves their camp trashed. But spear fishing is legal on Ouachita. That's very, very rare in Arkansas. But through the summer season, spear fishermen, divers, can take half the angling limit. There's unrestricted camping on islands. And you can. You can get out there, set up a tent, build a fire, bring a little rum.

[0:25:32] KM: Oh, rum. Okay.

[0:25:33] BB: Whiskey's okay. Rum is better. See, rum goes with boats.

[0:25:37] GM: That's what I was going to say. Yeah. Yeah.

[0:25:37] KM: Well, that's true. What is that? Jimmy Buffett? That likes rum or does he like tequila?

[0:25:43] BB: No. He's pretty much Margaritas. Yeah.

[0:25:45] KM: Oh, yeah. Margaritaville. Oh, yeah. You're right. You'll think this is fun, Bill. But one year we could – I had a bunch of kids, four, and we couldn't afford to take a vacation. Gray, are you about to remember this?

[0:25:56] GM: I already know what you're talking about.

[0:25:57] KM: For my vacation, after July 4th and the flag season was over, I had my husband take me out there and put me on an island with my children. And every day – we sat out there, we camped out there for I think five days or maybe a week. And every day he would get up, and he would take the Jon boat, and he would go back to shore and he would drive to work in Little Rock. And then at night he would go home, sell flags.

[0:26:17] GM: Sell flags. Get back in the car. Drive back out to the boat. Get back in the boat. Boat out to the island. Have dinner. Go to bed. Wake up in the morning. Put on a collared shirt. Boat back to shore for like six days in a row.

And then, while we're all there, out there abandoned on the island, because there's no boat, there's the daily thunderstorm coming through in the middle of July. And mom is just hollering at us as loud as she can, "Hold down the tens. If anything blows away, I'll never forgive you." I remember standing in the rain on an island in the middle of Lake Ouachita going, "If we survived this thunderstorm –"

[0:26:51] BB: Well, happy vacation, Gray.

[0:26:52] GM: It's one of the most formative family vacations in my memory is Lake Ouachita.

[0:26:57] BB: Well, you definitely bonded.

[0:26:58] GM: Oh, yes. No question about it.

[0:26:59] BB: Hanging on to a tent.

[0:27:00] GM: Absolutely. Try not to fly off into the lake.

[0:27:04] KM: Every day, there's a thunderstorm on Lake Ouachita.

[0:27:06] GM: Just a little bit. It was then anyway.

[0:27:09] BB: It was just a cool thing [inaudible 0:27:08].

[0:27:10] GM: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.

[0:27:11] BB: Ouachita is a unique venue for people that want – they're not as interested in a real high visibility urban environment. Now they probably have that in their cities or their towns or where they live. But they come to the lake to get away from that. To recharge.

And one of the things that means so much to me. Over over my life, and I can tell these stories because I've been around [inaudible 0:27:38], Ouachita and Harbor, because that's where I live, I think we've saved a lot of families. I think we've saved a lot of relationships.

It's a little bigger version of when you guys were on the island by yourself. When you're on Ouachita – and it's not necessarily at Mountain Harbor. It could be Shangri-La or Brady Mountain or Crystal Springs. When you're there, you're not enticed to go into town or to run down the lake to this bar or run down the lake to this restaurant. Families stay together closer.

Now that doesn't mean that you don't bring friends. But it does mean that they do things together. And I have had so many times husbands and wives say to me, "Barnes, Harbor saved our family or saved our marriage or kept our kids from doing what we didn't want them to be doing." And that means a whole lot to me.

And when you begin to look at the generations – when I can walk in the dining room and see three generations sitting at a table, it's just like you serve in the second and third generation of people that buy flags from you or watching your kids work with you here.

[0:29:07] KM: I think this is interesting. And then we're going to go to a break. In 1958, when you founded The Lodge Restaurant, or your dad did, you could bring in your catch, because it was a fishing post mostly, and y'all would cook it. Do y'all still cook the catch today?

[0:29:19] BB: Oh, yes, ma'am. We have two great top guides, Chris Darby and Mike Wurm, who are keys. And Chris is a chef in the restroom. He guides. And he'll guide 250 days a year. He's been guiding for years. He's very, very good. And whether it's Chris or Mike or another guide, we are happy to prepare their catch either for lunch or dinner.

[0:29:43] KM: So, you just bring it in in an ice bucket, I guess, a nice chest.

[0:29:48] BB: You clean them first and you bring the fillets in.

[0:29:50] KM: So, you got to clean them.

[0:29:51] BB: Yep. Got to clean them. We don't clean fish in the kitchen.

[0:29:54] KM: Oh, that's probably good enough. Yeah.

[0:29:55] BB: But you got to clean them and then bring them in. And we will be happy to fix them.

[0:30:00] KM: Blacken' them, fry them, anything you want to do.

[0:30:04] BB: Absolutely.

[0:30:04] KM: I love that. All right. This is a great place to take a break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with entrepreneur Mr. Bill Barnes, owner-operator of Mountain Harbor Marina Resort & Spa located along the pristine shores of the Ouachita Lake right in the center of the Ouachita mountains of Arkansas. We'll be right back.


[00:30:22] ANNOUNCER: All UIYB past and present interviews are available at Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy's YouTube channel, Facebook page, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's digital version, flagandbanner.com's website, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Just ask your smart speaker to play Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. By subscribing to our YouTube channel or flagandbaner.com's email list, you will receive prior notification of that day's guest. Back to you, Kerry.


[00:30:46] KM: You're listening to Up in Your Business with me, Kerry McCoy, and I'm speaking today with the man behind the 2001 Tourism Man of the Year, Mr. Bill Barnes, owner of Mountain Harbor Resort on Lake Ouachita.

So you went away to college. You came back. You turned dad's boat dock into a marina. You solved his tax problems. You’ve built cottages. You're frying up fish in the restaurant. All of a sudden, you decide you're going to open up a Joplin Volunteer Fire Department.

[00:31:13] BB: Well, when you watch stuff burn down, and you can't do anything about it, there's an incentive there to do that. Back in the day, when this was about ’76, ’77, we had two cottages, C1 and C2. I still remember Sugar Woods from Shreveport running down the sidewalk in front of the guest rooms screaming, “Bill, Bill. Our cottage is on fire.” The window air conditioner in the wall had set the wall on fire.

I had a half inch garden hose. There were two fire trucks in Montgomery County, one in Mount Ida, one in Norman. Neither one could leave the city limits because it would void all of the insurance in the city if the fire truck left, which makes sense. So, I called my buddy, Scotty Brakefield, in Mount Ida, who was the fire chief at the time. I said, “Scotty, I've got a cottage on fire. Is there any way you can come help?” “I'll be right there.” So, he brought Mount Ida's fire truck. Scotty got there, put up a water curtain between the two cottages, and saved the cottage.

After that, I made myself a promise that we would have some semblance of a fire department. We started in 1979 with four volunteers, and we now run. We've got about 18 active volunteers, 26 on the rolls. We run about 120 to 140 calls a year out of our fire station.

[00:32:58] KM: I think I remember seeing a coast guard fire boat.

[00:33:02] BB: Yes, ma'am. Because we're a fire department, we got called to go out and fight fires on the lake.

[00:33:07] KM: Really?

[00:33:08] BB: Uh-huh. Then let me tell you how you do that if you don't have a fire boat, with a pickle bucket, five-gallon pickle buckets. Well, remember the old bucket brigades.

[00:33:16] GM: Scoop them out of the lake.

[00:33:17] BB: That you see. When they were throwing buckets of water on stuff back in the old days on the movies.

[00:33:20] KM: Oh, yes. Uh-huh, uh-huh. Bucket brigade. Yes.

[00:33:23] BB: Well, if all you have is a bucket and water, you'd go to the shoreline. Gray's exactly right. You'd scoop up water. You'd walk up and throw it on the fire. Anyway, we put our first fire boat together over 20 years ago.

[00:33:37] KM: You somewhere along the line decided that you were going to get into a resort on DeGray, and you partnered with somebody. Why did you do that? You've got enough to do where you are.

[00:33:48] BB: When I was being shown this wonderful building and the ballroom and all the stuff you've done here, one of the comments this young lady named Megan made was, “My mom has always been a risk taker.” My comment back was that's part of being an entrepreneur. Flave Carpenter, the Director of the Arkadelphia Chamber of Commerce, was one of my customers at Harbor. The corps had built DeGray Lake. The master plan for DeGray lake called for two facilities. State park got one of them. Clark County got the other. The county judge at the time told the – showed the corps this very impressive development plan he had for the Clark County leasehold. I watched DeGray being built. I watched it fill. I watched the Lodge start for the state park. Nothing ever happened at the other lease.

Flave, my customer, would give me updates on the status of anything happening at the lease. The county judge that made the proposal to the corps changed jobs. I learned that the corps was about to take the lease away from the county. So I made an appointment with the county judge, and I said, “I understand from friends of yours and mine that the corps is getting ready to pull the lease. If you will sublease it to me, I will build a marina, and I will build lodging. We will employ Clark County people, and you won't lose face by losing a lease.” He said, “You got a deal.”

[00:35:36] KM: You're done.

[00:35:37] GM: Sure.

[00:35:38] BB: The quorum court voted to approve it. Then he called me and said, “There are other people in this county that were interested in that, but nobody had come to me. You need to hurry and get something done.” So, I had lumber delivered. I had no money, no idea how to do this because Harbor was in debt. I had no borrowing power. But I bought a bundle of lumber on credit and got it delivered to the site and had a fellow start cutting some things out. So we were performing. So that's how Iron Mountain started. I had Harbor, which had debt. I did Iron Mountain because I just –

[00:36:23] KM: You're an opportunist. You couldn't take it.

[00:36:25] BB: You're right.

[00:36:26] KM: I know.

[00:36:27] BB: So, what's fun about Harbor now, when you go back and think about 100 boats, one gas pump, and getting up at four in the morning.

[00:36:35] KM: You still get up early.

[00:36:37] BB: I still get up early. I don't open the marina and close the restaurant anymore.

[00:36:41] KM: Thank goodness.

[00:36:42] BB: Oh, I just – I work with the most wonderful people. Everything that I've said about Harbor, about DeGray, about Greeson, none of that's about me, Kerry. It's any more than all of this is about just you. It isn't. It's the people. It's the family that supported us. It's all the wonderful people that make it happen.

[00:37:04] KM: So, you ended up calling this umbrella over all these properties you own on these three different lakes, the Tri-Pennant Family. What does the name Tri-Pennant Family, and how did you come up with that?

[00:37:16] BB: Three flags, three lakes, and pennant. The Eggleston family, Gray, have been at Iron Mountain and worked with me 42 years running DeGray.

[00:37:30] KM: That's the DeGray state work.

[00:37:34] BB: Their son, Charles, now works with them. Jim Mishler, who started with me at Harbor as a general maintenance man 27 years ago, is General Manager of Self Creek. His family lives there, and we serve families. The business model is the same at all three. We're not ever going to be real super fancy. We are absolutely dedicated to 100% personal service. We will do anything we can for our customers. So you take the three flags that each one represents a resort and the fact that all of our resorts are run by families.

Carl Cramer at Iron Mountain has been there, Kerry, longer than David and Vickie. He's been there 43 or 44 years, still there, started with me in high school. The managers at Harbor, the lady that runs our accounting department at Harbor started as a waitress with me 48 years ago, Colleen. So, the management teams are families. They're my family. The staff are our family. We serve them.

[00:38:46] KM: So, it’s Tri-Pennant for flag, pennant or flag, and then family because you are –

[00:38:52] BB: The Tri-Pennant.

[00:38:52] KM: That is the core of your business model.

[00:38:54] BB: Absolutely. Tri-Pennant family of resorts are three resorts that are run by families to serve families.

[00:39:03] KM: Excellent. This is a great place to take a break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with entrepreneur, Mr. Bill Barnes, owner-operator at Mountain Harbor Marina Resort Spa located right in the center of the Ouachita Mountains in Arkansas.


[00:39:16] ANNOUNCER: Part of Kerry McCoy Enterprises is ourcornermarket.com, the perfect online shopping site for everything you need to strengthen your business's image or beautify your home and landscaping. You can browse through products like custom plaques in bronze or aluminum, business signage, address plaques to dress up your home or apartment complex, memorial stones and markers, even for your beloved pets, logo mats, and countless other items. Please visit ourcornermarket.com today and start shopping.


[00:39:50] KM: You're listening to Up in Your Business with me, Kerry McCoy, and I'm speaking today with Mr. Bill Barnes, the newly appointed member of the Office of Outdoor Advisor Committee by Governor Sanders. You've got a new title to go with all your other millions of honors and titles. I mean, you've been the president of everything down there. But let's go and talk about some more stuff that you can do on Lake Ouachita. Fishing tournaments, I've been there before when you've had fishing tournaments. Those boats fly out of there and fly back in. is that –

[00:40:20] BB: Not anymore.

[00:40:22] KM: Oh, really?

[00:40:23] BB: That's called a shotgun start, and they quit that because of safety reasons. So now, it's called a staggered start. Basically, boats 1 through 150, and they literally run about a 10-second delay between each boat taken off. Then those boats all had a return time that gave them credit for the time they lost in takeoff.

[00:40:45] KM: Like you said, it used to be such – you just throw your fishing pole in, and you pull out a fish. Is it still that way?

[00:40:52] BB: Not exactly. When I was on the Parks and Tourism Commission, fishing was the fifth like track door for people to come to the state. Fishing is still extremely popular and extremely good. Ouachita is a great fishing lake, but it's matured. It’s 70 years old. So the cover's a little different. The structure is a little different. I learned all this stuff from Chris Darby. So you have to work at it a little bit more.

For folks that are listening to us, if they want to go fishing on Ouachita, and I'm not selling guide services, but it's a great big lake. If they want to go and they really want to learn how to fish on Ouachita, they need to hire a guide a couple of times. Summer fishing, although it's still good, actually summer fishing is now better than it used to be. I think probably more because the guides have adapted, and they know how to do it better. But summer fishing is tough. Spring and fall fishing is really good. Crappie fishing, oh, Kerry, it is great. Crappie are so good to eat.

[00:42:05] KM: Oh, they are. What's your favorite thing to do on the lake?

[00:42:08] BB: Take a party barge, go out to an island. I have two rescue dogs, Port and Starboard, and a wonderful partner named Merle. We will go out on the lake, pull up to an island. I'll get the lodge to fix a couple of cheeseburgers to go, and we let the boys out. One is an 11-year-old half Australian Shepherd, half Golden named Port. The other is an eight-year-old Golden named Starboard. We let them out on the island. Then Merle and I will eat a cheeseburger, and they will run and sniff and play and swim.

[00:42:44] GM: Oh, man. That sounds awesome.

[00:42:45] BB: Late in the afternoon because I work all day.

[00:42:46] KM: Watch the sunset.

[00:42:48] BB: Yes, that's part of the deal.

[00:42:49] KM: You have a favorite island?

[00:42:51] BB: No.

[00:42:52] KM: Oh, you wouldn't tell me anyway because you’re [inaudible 00:42:53].

[00:42:54] BB: I would tell you.

[00:42:56] KM: You would?

[00:42:57] BB: Yes.

[00:42:58] GM: Just maybe not on air.

[00:42:58] BB: But I don't have a favorite. Now, there are two that I will tell you. If you ever come out and you want me to show you, I'll take you out to boat. One is called P&T point, and it's down part of the island 26 structure.

[0:43:13] KM: Look, I'm writing it down.

[0:43:15] GM: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

[0:43:16] BB: And it's named P&T Point because parks and tourism met there years and years ago, Bud Shamburger, Jim Gaston, all that group. And I watched Jim Gaston and Bud Shamburger back when jet skis were first coming out, watch them get on a jet ski and take off out on the lake in their suit.

[0:43:36] GM: Oh, I love that.

[0:43:37] BB: In their suit.

[0:43:37] KM: In their business suit?

[0:43:38] BB: Aha. Now, Shamburger and Gaston always had this competition. One was going to outdo the other. Well, we brought in a couple of jet skis because they were new and unique for them to just look at.

[0:43:54] KM: Next thing, they're on their – oh, gosh. I love that. That's Lake Ouachita for you right there.

[0:43:58] GM: Oh, yeah.

[0:43:58] BB: Well, and Gaston had cowboy boots on, if you could imagine. That's P&T Point. And then on down one island, chain east toward Brady, there's a beautiful little cove called Killer Brim Cove that was named by Paul and Barbara Harvel.

Paul used to be president of the chamber here in Little Rock. But they would swim out there. And you know how those little brim will come up and nibble on you?

[0:44:23] KM: Yeah. Mm-hmm.

[0:44:24] BB: Well, that apparently was a place where they just could get no rest because the brim would just nibble at them all the time. They named it Killer Brim Cove. And those are both beautiful places where you can see the sunset.

[0:44:37] KM: I want to list everything you can do. Fishing, sailing, boating, houseboats, skiing, day trips, hiking, 40 miles worth of hiking through the forest, diving, horseback riding still, I'm assuming.

[0:44:51] BB: Mm-hmm. Yes.

[0:44:52] KM: Dining, camping, lodging. And there's property for sale. Did I miss anything?

[0:45:01] BB: No. Scuba diving's great. Spear fishing is still great.

[0:45:06] KM: Oh, yes. Spear fishing.

[0:45:08] BB: The Lovett Trail, which is the trail you mentioned, is actually almost 50 miles long. And it's beautiful, beautiful lake views. Houseboating. Rental houseboats. Several operations there.

And one thing, Kerry, that that you kind of shown your age, dear –

[0:45:28] KM: I do that a lot.

[0:45:28] BB: Nobody water skis anymore.

[0:45:30] KM: Oh, what do they do?

[0:45:31] BB: We do, because we did –

[0:45:32] KM: Oh, kneeboard?

[0:45:34] BB: They kneeboard, and wakeboard and surfboard.

[0:45:37] GM: Oh, wakeboarding. Yeah. Yeah.

[0:45:38] BB: All these big boats that are out there that it's unbelievable what those boats will do.

[0:45:45] KM: They don't get up on skis anymore?

[0:45:47] BB: Mm-mm.

[0:45:48] KM: My husband was the king of slaloming.

[0:45:52] BB: I love to slalom. No. I was standing down at the Marina back a few years ago and I was looking at these boats and they were wakeboard and surf boats. And I'm talking to the kids on the Marina, I'm saying – because when I bought boats, they were $8,995. I said, "What do those boats run? Are they 70,000 80,000 bucks?" And the kids looked at me and said, "That one's about 150. That one's about 160. That one's about 140."

[0:46:23] GM: Dang.

[0:46:25] BB: And they were circling waiting for fuel. Gorgeous, magnificent boats, but with computers where they have ballasts in them, Kerry, where they shift water from one side to the other to create more wake to the rider to the left.

[0:46:39] KM: Inner tubing was the one all my kids always liked.

[0:46:40] GM: Oh, yeah. We always loved that.

[0:46:42] KM: Get on there and sling them around. I know that the governor wants to bring in more tourism. And I know this is a selfish thing for me to say, and I know you're going to disagree with me, but I don't want more tourism. The lakes are full enough for me. I'm selfish. I like it just the way it is. I don't want everybody to know about how awesome Arkansas is, even though I'm making this podcast that you can listen to anywhere.

But Arkansas is awesome. I have a business in Miami. And I have to go to Miami every month. And tourism is its number one industry probably. And whenever I come home, I am just grateful that the people that live here live here. Because those people down there don't care about that city. They just come in, trash it, leave. And is Lake Ouachita full? Can it take more?

[0:47:28] GM: Do we want people to come and experience it?

[0:47:31] BB: I'm not going to tell you I disagree, okay? I love the people we serve. And I love having the opportunity to meet new people that share the same values and appreciation of the lake. Those that don't, those that trash an island or those that come in with the intent of just staying drunk for a weekend and being obnoxious, I would rather they not come to Ouachita.

The vast, vast majority of the people on any of our three lakes, the Tri-Pennant Family, those are good, wonderful, caring people that are doing the same thing that you did with your kids on that island. They're bonding with their families. They're welcome.

Yes, we can take more people. Because, really, in the overall scheme of things, when you look at the density of tourist, visitors to other lakes around us or other states around us, we are not that densely populated from a tourism perspective. We're really not. I want to see hospitality be the number one industry in our state.

Well, and I think that we self-define a little bit, because we are a very, very rural wilderness state and lakes. People that want the MGM Grand, they won't come here anyway because that's not the resource we offer. It really isn't.

[0:49:06] KM: How was your 2023 season?

[0:49:10] BB: '20 and '21 were unbelievable.

[0:49:13] KM: Because of COVID.

[0:49:14] BB: We broke every record we ever dreamed we would have because people self – they distanced at the lake. Property went through the roof. '22 was good. Well, '22 was good in every area except lodging. We are seeing a decline in lodging for two reasons. A, discretionary income is affected because everything is costing us more. And they're not going to come to the lake when they're looking hard at how much it's going to cost to buy school clothes this year. That's one thing. The other thing is the Vrbo's and the Airbnb's.

[0:50:04] KM: Oh, yeah. And then COVID is over. So, people are going back to cities.

[0:50:08] BB: It's interesting. I had a conversation the other day. You're right. You're exactly right. There is an element of our market that came to the resorts in Arkansas, whether it's BOC with Mike Mills, or Harbor, or Greeson, or whatever, they came to the lakes because all of the cruise lines, and all of the international travel and all of the big amusement parks were closed.

[0:50:34] KM: Oh, yeah.

[0:50:35] BB: Now they've gradually reopened. Everything's up to the same pre-COVID, I guess, availability. There is an element of our market that has gone back to do those things.

[0:50:48] KM: Yeah, that's right.

[0:50:49] BB: And that affects us some. But we also had an opportunity during COVID to enter – we being all of the natural state facilities to introduce ourselves to people that otherwise wouldn't have come here to start with. There's a little bit of a balance there. To answer your question, '23, we are still seeing some challenges with lodging. Everything else is just great. And it's fine.

[0:51:16] KM: Well, fall is my favorite time of year over there. I love Lake Ouachita in the fall. There's nobody on the lake.

[0:51:23] GM: Like, after Labor Day. Yeah.

[0:51:25] KM: Mm-hmm. I like over there. I'm going to see you in the fall. And I may hire a guide. I think that's a great idea. Because my husband likes to fish. And that might be a great idea. I love talking to you not only because I love your business as you love mine. Thank you very much. But the entrepreneurship, the risk-taking, the looking for opportunities, the listening to life. You have done every bit of everything that makes a great entrepreneur. We're kindred souls. I have a gift for you. It's a Wyoming flag. A desk set. It's a US flag, an Arkansas flag. And that's Wyoming. It's got a buffalo on it.

[0:51:59] BB: Oh, that is so wonderful. I have a little military vehicle museum.

[0:52:04] KM: I was going to ask you about that. You've Montgomery County Military Museum.

[0:52:09] BB: I put the little Museum together over 20 years ago with one little old Jeep that I didn't know what was. And as I drove it around, people would say, "What is that?" And a fellow would say, "Can I bring my dad to see that?"

So I decided if a World War II Jeep was good, then a Korean war and a Vietnam era would be better. I got one of each. More people wanted to see him. It was never my intent to do a museum. But as you get into it, you build –

[0:52:39] KM: Listening to life, again.

[0:52:40] BB: – you build relationships. The little museum started evolving. It will always be free. We now have about 45 vehicles. Everything from World War II through current Humvees. But it's there for one reason. I cannot tell you what it means to me when people walk in there. And their little kids can climb on the machines. They bring their parents that were veterans. They are veterans.

And the whole building is for one purpose, and that's to honor the Armed Forces of our country. To provide a venue where veterans can tell stories and where kids can touch and feel rather than seeing them on a computer screen. It means everything.

[0:53:31] KM: Bill, I've enjoyed visiting with you so much. In closing, to our listeners, I want to thank you for spending time with us. We hope you've heard or learned something that's been inspiring and enlightening. And that it, whatever it is, will help you up your business, your independence or your life. I'm Kerry McCoy, and I'll see you next time on Up in Your Business. Until then, be brave and keep it up.


[0:53:55] GM: You've been listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. For links to resources you heard discussed on today's show, go to flagandbander.com, select radio and choose today's guests. All interviews are recorded and posted the following week. Subscribe to podcasts wherever you'd like to listen.

Kerry's goal is simple, to help you live the American dream.


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