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Madden's Resort re-opens after storm damage and $13M renovation

Deep, clear, blue. Sandy beaches, verdant shorelines, loons at sunset.Brainerd, Detroit Lakes, "Alex." Pelican, Otter Tail, Gull.It's a word-association game deep in the Minnesota psyche, a spider-web of images and places with one word at the center.

Deep, clear, blue. Sandy beaches, verdant shorelines, loons at sunset.
Brainerd, Detroit Lakes, "Alex." Pelican, Otter Tail, Gull.
It's a word-association game deep in the Minnesota psyche, a spider-web of images and places with one word at the center. Water.
And, one hopes, fish.
Nearly as integral to the landscape that the glaciers yielded north and west of the Twin Cities: resorts.
They've come, gone and grown.
For one stalwart resort - Madden's on Gull Lake - another milestone is being passed this spring, as the resort reopens after a destructive storm and $13 million in renovations.
On July 12, a series of microbursts pummeled Gull Lake, especially focusing on Steamboat Bay, home to Madden's and Cragun's Resort on Gull Lake. Guests were evacuated to shelters, and resorts were closed.
No one was killed, but property damage to the resorts - both family-owned for generations - was substantial. Twenty buildings were damaged and more than 200 trees were downed on Madden's property, which spans more than 1,000 acres, including golf courses, tennis courts, a marina and several restaurants.
"We were blessed that no one was hurt," said Abbey Pieper, the resort's vice president and a third-generation family member of the resort, which her grandfather, Jim Madden, his brother, Jack, and their uncle, Tom, bought in 1936. When the storm hit, Pieper had just sat down for her birthday dinner across the bay from the resort with her two sons and an exchange student. "We just hunkered down until the storms passed. There was nothing we could do."
Pieper said there was no question the resort would rebuild. "We got our core staff together and said, 'What's it gonna take? How long is it gonna take?' Everyone was very cooperative."
It wasn't the first time destruction had beset Madden's, which steadily grew from humble beginnings by expanding and buying neighboring resorts and lands. In 1964, a fire destroyed the golf complex at the resort's Pine Beach Golf Course. The disaster gave the Maddens cause to rebuild, resulting in a superior facility. Jim Madden would later recall: "It may have been the best thing that has happened to us."
Similarly, Pieper said there was opportunity following last summer's storm damage.
"There's certainly a silver lining, to be sure," she said. "The opportunity is that we've got 85 new guest rooms."
The resort normally reinvests about $1.2 million a year. Pieper said you can get a lot more done with $13 million - but that's $13 million.
"It's a little bit like childbirth: Once you get through it, I think you forget about it."
With golf, a spa, "day camp"-style child care for kids and a full suite of amenities, Madden's is hardly a northwoods outpost with nothing to do but fish. In fact, the resort doesn't promote fishing as much as one might think.
"Everyone knows that we're in lakes country, and we're known for the great walleye," Pieper said, noting that her father, current owner Brian Thuringer, is a fly fisherman and is wired into a network of area guides available for guests.
But the resort has never been big on promoting Gull Lake's fishing. When Jack Madden ran the place, that was by design.
Madden was fond of saying, "Fishing is one of the few things we can't guarantee."


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