In Eldersburg, Randi and Bob Wetzel round up human and equine guests with home-cooked meals, 'cowboy cookies' and acres of trails

April 29, 2003|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

A little more than a mile from the bustling traffic and fast-food glare of Liberty Road, the aroma of freshly brewed coffee and a savory breakfast casserole fills a sunny dining room. Six guests surround a table that offers a view of other visitors to the inn, the ones grazing in a nearby pasture.

The Americana Inn in Eldersburg provides cozy suites, home-cooked meals and the hostess' signature "cowboy cookies" for newlyweds, second honeymooners and business travelers. Innkeepers Randi and Bob Wetzel also cater to an equine clientele, with accommodations that include clean stalls, acres of fenced grass and easy access to the trails that meander through the woods surrounding Liberty Reservoir.

"This inn has everything I want and need," said Leslie Fried of Woodstown, N.J., who has stayed at the inn three times -- twice with her horse and once with her 10-year-old nephew -- and has booked a weekend in the fall. "This is the most amazing place because you really feel like you are in a home."

State tourism officials say the Americana is one of about 50 inns of its type in the country. Barbara Beverungen, Carroll County's tourism director, said, "It is not your romantic Victorian getaway.

"It is just a down-to-earth working farm, but so pristine and serene," she said. "Randi has really hit a niche with people, those willing to trailer a horse and stay overnight and those looking for something special."

Lindsay Whitelock, 13, came with her parents from Chambersburg, Pa., last summer. She never touched the pedals of the bikes her dad brought on the trip. She was far too busy with the goats and the donkey, a yellow Lab named Wrecks and the cats -- and the horses.

"I thought she would just let me pet the horses, but Randi let me feed them with her every morning," Lindsay said. "If I ever get my own horse, I am taking it there."

Mindy Bianca, public relations coordinator for the Maryland Office of Tourism, said Wetzel is a horse lover who "rises to the occasion" when her guests come calling.

"It is difficult enough to operate a B and B for humans -- but to add horses!" Bianca said. "Not only does she clean up after the humans, she cleans up after the horses, too. Talk about hospitality."

The Wetzels' motto: "We'll do the mucking."

Randi, a former kitchen designer, and her first husband, Michael Place, bought the 10-acre property seven years ago, hoping to raise horses and spend their retirement there. Those dreams were dashed when Place died of cancer in the fall of 2000. Reluctant to leave the farm, Randi decided to try innkeeping.

She took a hospitality course, developed a marketing plan and renovated part of her home into two guest suites, all in about five months. The downstairs accommodations -- $130 for double occupancy plus $20 to stable a horse -- have a private entrance, a mud room, two bedrooms, a full bath and a living area with an electric wood stove. Upstairs, she turned the master bedroom and bath into a second suite that for $95 a night includes a spacious bedroom, sitting area and bathroom with a soaking tub and a second TV.

"I was going for decadence," she said.

An enclosed back porch with walls of windows became the inn's dining room with a view of pastures, a new barn and a small herd of goats that are favorites with visitors. One couple insisted the newest twin goats be named Mike and Iola after them.

Wetzel advertised on the Internet and in horse magazines. When Beverungen took the Maryland tourism officers there, "everyone was really impressed, especially with the cowboy cookies," she said. The oversized cookies are a chewy concoction of chocolate and nuts baked in a buttery batter. But hospitality has its limits. Wetzel refuses to share the recipe.

The inn opened in the spring of 2001, and her seventh guest was a widower from Emmitsburg. During his wife's illness, Bob Wetzel had had little time to spend with his horse. He came to the inn hoping trail riding would benefit both him and his Tennessee walker. The innkeeper has the same breed of horse, which she calls a canter ideal for aging baby boomers.

"Bob's horse literally would not leave," Randi Wetzel said. "We could not get the horse back into the trailer."

So the horse stayed and a friendship blossomed. On long trail rides, Bob and Randi spoke of the losses and the blessings in their lives. Late that summer, they rode on horseback to their wedding at a spot overlooking the reservoir. His imminent retirement from an elevator company in Gettysburg will make him a full-time innkeeper and farmer, he said.

In memory of their former spouses, the couple donates all tips from their guests to the Johns Hopkins Cancer Center, a donation that came to $800 last year.

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