Bill and Sandra Cummings start Whispering Pines Bed, Breakfast & Outfitters in South Dakota Badlands.
Ten years ago, Bill Cummings (Oglala Lakota) had a dream to purchase a 186-acre site that had previously operated as a camping and cabin resort just outside of the Badlands National Park in South Dakota. After changing ownership, the business eventually shut down, and Bill saw his opportunity. He put together a detailed business plan, mapping out rates and financial projections, and set out to find capital. Unfortunately, the property had a tax lien on it, and initially the financing didn’t work out.
After that, life happened. Bill worked in the construction industry for several years as a project manager, married his wife, Sandra, and started a family. Although he had a great career, he continued seeking out ways to generate income through his passion for the outdoors. Bill began guiding hunts for deer, antelope, and turkey, but he kept dreaming about that 186-acre property.
“I couldn’t let it go,” he said.
As the years went by, the Cummings continued to explore potential ways to purchase the vacant site. The Cummings eventually approached Lakota Funds, a community loan fund, also known as a Native community development financial institution (CDFI), based on the Pine Ridge Reservation, for financing. However, Lakota Funds could only provide about half of the capital needed. They also put an application in with a local bank, but measured against traditional risk-rating points, it couldn’t be approved.
“I kept trying different angles until it worked,” said Bill.
Thinking outside of the box, Bill contacted the Bureau of Indian Affairs loan guarantee office to see if there were any other options. They suggested he contact Four Bands Community Fund, also a Native CDFI but based on the Cheyenne River Reservation. As nonprofit organizations, Lakota Funds and Four Bands both provide affordable and flexible financing to Native American entrepreneurs and were enthusiastic about collaborating to develop a solution.
“We saw that Bill had really done a lot of research in what it would take to get the place up and running again. Knowing that other facilities in the area are always fully booked, and with his background in construction and as a hunting guide, we thought it was a great opportunity to boost the Reservation economy through tourism,” said Tony Taylor, Loan Officer at Lakota Funds, who worked with the Cummings through the lending process.
Lakota Vogel, Executive Director of Four Bands, shares Tony’s viewpoint. She says, “Bill and Sandra have the vision and the proximity to a beautiful destination in order to capitalize on this opportunity. We are just the fuel for their dream. The partnership with Lakota Funds has allowed us to provide extra support for the start up as the national economy and small business support systems recover from COVID.”
To make the purchase and renovation of the property possible for the Cummings, Four Bands and Lakota Funds provided a blended product comprised of an equity injection and loan capital. The organizations worked together to structure and deploy a participation loan, an instrument that allows multiple lenders to share in the funding of a loan, typically when the full loan amount exceeds the maximum loan limit of the lenders involved. For their portion of the loan, Lakota Funds deployed low-interest capital from Wells Fargo’s Open for Business Fund.
“Our local economy is recovering from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are grateful to have support from Wells Fargo to aid in these efforts,” says Tawney Brunsch, Executive Director of Lakota Funds.
Bill said compared to mainstream lenders, working with Lakota Funds and Four Bands was a lot easier. Other banks required a large sum of equity up front, but the Native CDFIs were more reasonable and offered a lot more flexibility. On July 2, 2021, Bill and Sandra Cummings signed their loan papers and got to work.
As the property was vacant for several years, the Cummings are currently renovating the office, bathrooms, lodge, and cabins, and plan to open as Whispering Pines Bed, Breakfast & Outfitters in August. The Cummings are employing one construction worker and have also received additional labor support through Lakota Funds’ construction internship program to complete the renovation. The Cummings’ four children, ages 5, 4, 2, and 1, have all been present on the job site and will continue to be part of the business once they open.
“I see it as a family business,” says Bill.
To start, Whispering Pines will offer outdoor and RV campsites with plans to provide cabin and indoor lodging in September. During the winter months, Bill will guide hunts for turkey, deer, antelope, and predators on state and tribal lands. The property also features a 2,700 square foot log home that will serve as a hunting lodge.
The Badlands in South Dakota has over one million visitors annually, and the few lodging and camping facilities in the area are usually booked for the season by March every year. The opening of Whispering Pines Bed, Breakfast & Outfitters will provide more options for tourists in the area.