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Voyageur's Best Features of 2005

Big Sandy Lodge

Exceeding all expectations
The resort is...
by John Grones  |  November 15, 2005

“It’s more than we ever anticipated,” said Dennis Richardson, co-owner of Big Sandy Lodge and Resort. “The project exceeded all expectations and we feel the area is ready for something like this.”
It wasn’t that long ago, June of 2001, that Dennis and Arlyce Richardson, along with partners Jeff Gardner and Stu and Linda Voigtpurchased the resort from Marion Stringham. The team also included Dennis’s parents Ron and Mary Ellen Richardson, who helped run the resort the past four years.

Prior to the Richardsons, the resort known as Kare Phree Pines for 57 years, has been a destination for people seeking relaxation and breath-taking views on the shores of Big Sandy. During the Kare Phree era, the facility grew to 21 rooms and three apartments in the lodge, 16 seasonal cabins and an indoor heated pool.

That era ended this past summer, but the Big Sandy Lake Resort team made a conscious effort to preserve Marion’s legacy with a Kare Phree Pines memory room. The room is actually Marion’s old setting room. In it, and the hallways, are several picture displays of Marion and the resort from past years.

“I would like to think that Marion would be proud of what we’ve done,” said Dennis. “When she built the resort, she was ahead of her time and now it’s time to take it a step further.”

Today, the lodge has been expanded and improved to include a new indoor swimming pool, a whirlpool, sauna, an exercise room, men’s and women’s locker rooms, and a new kitchen. There are 18 rooms in the upstairs of the lodge; two new bars, The Bears Den on the main level and the Cub Bar downstairs; the Pines Resaurant with a cozy lounge area; new decks, patios and sports courts.

The resort is basically a small city with 33 townhomes, 20 homesites, and 18 rooms in the lodge. According to Dennis, the resort has their own water and a septic system of the latest sophistication level, exceeding most small communities.

The partners enjoy giving tours of the lodge. The building was remodeled with an attempt to move from less formal rooms to more formal.

On the east end of the lodge is the Bears Den. This area contains a log accented bar area with several high definition televisions and a state-of-the-art sound system.

The Bears Den will have a food menu seperate from the resaurant and a variety of beverages, including high-end liquors and specialty beers. According to General Manager Lon Heiden (a.k.a. the Mayor), despite some rumors that have already begun to flow through the community, the food and beverage prices in the bar are right in line with the other establishments in the area. “The atmosphere is just a little more upscale,” he said.

Brent Thompson is the bar manager. Brent moved to the area from Minneapolis to take the job. Brent shared that the bar will offer the largest selection of high-end liquors and specialty beers in the area. The bar also contains an extensive air handling system for smoke.

One of the neat features is the Sound Dog. This speaker device allows patrons to listen to a particular television that they are watching without disrupting the customers in the next booth.

Moving to the next room on the main level of the lodge, customers enter into an area called the lounge area which divides the Bears Den from The Pines restaurant. The bar and resaurant overlook the lake and both have access to three levels of outdoor dining. Just below the patio is a central firepit with a spectacular view of the lake.

The next room features the smoke free restaurant called The Pines. The restaurant features executive chef Todd-Richard Prado. Todd has been preparing a menu that will include excellent cuisine accompanied by the largest seclection of wines in the area. This past week, Todd prepared a tasting menu for the partners friends and family to sample. Each entree was paired by a selected wine.
This past weekend, the four course tasting menu included a first course of Cold Smoked Salmon with Citrus Glacé and Asparagus Salad with a glass of Gramona Cava “Cuvée”, NV, from Penedes, Spain; a second course of Lobster Ravioli with Brown Butter Sage Sauce and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc - 2004 by Vavasour/Dashwood of Marlbough, New Zealand; a third course of Osso Buco and Parmagiano Reggiano-Leek Risotto with a glass of Cabernet-Sangiovese - 2003, by Carpineto Dogajolo “Super Tuscan” from Tuscany, Italy; and a fourth (dessert) course of Warm Chocolate Ganaché and French Vanilla Bean Ice Cream with a glass of Bodegas E. Fernandez La Legua - 2003 from Cigales, Spain.

The servers for the evening were Melanie Dunn, Angie Gauthier and dining room captain Margaret Young. Melanie came to the resort with her husband John who was hired as the maintenance manager. Melanie and John, have two daughters, Karalyn (4) and Ella (3). Angie is a local Tamarack girl and Margaret is from White Bear Lake. Her previous experience included working at the Lowell Inn, a 4-star restaurant in Stillwater. Maragaret shared that she saw an ad for the job in the St. Paul paper. “This is my dream job,” said Margaret, “and I wanted to get out of the cities.”

All the tasty entrees were accompanied by bread baked by pastry chef Mary Constantine. All breads and pastries will be made fresh each day from scratch.

Also on the main level of the lodge are a number of amenities for people staying for the weekend or people living in the community. The indoor pool area includes a hot tub and is adjacent to a fitness room. According to Dennis, the pool was one of those items they planned on saving, but it didn’t work out. “We started tearing into it and it made no sense,” said Dennis. “We just made it bigger and better.”

The pool is also adjacent to men’s and women’s lockerrooms.

Upstairs in the lodge there are 18 thematic rooms which now contain bathtubs. The entire upstairs has been remodeled and opened up a little to include a balcony and an elevator. The entire lodge also has access to satellite television and Y-Fi internet. “A computer can be used anywhere on the entire site,” said Dennis.

Downstairs is a private club room and there will be a full-stock bar with a large area for receptions and large gatherings. The game room will also be downstairs. The lodge has vintage games available.

Lon Heiden is a familiar face at the lodge. Lon served as the general manager when the lodge was first purchased. Things have changed quite a bit and more recently Lon has been working closely with project manager Brett Comstock. Lon’s focus has been to see the lodge put back together. “It came together really well,” said Lon. “Now, I will be overseeing the day-to-day operations and sale of the townhomes.”

Currently there are 12 townhomes under construction with varying degrees of completion and two already 100 percent finished as model units.

The amenities at the resort are amazing. Dawnel Briley, the Director of Guest and Hotel Services, is new to the staff; she worked at Sunset Lodge on Lake of the Woods and Rutgers on Bay Lake. “Rutgers has nothing over this place,” said Dawnel who sees Big Sandy Lodge as a four-season resort.

On Sunday, November 13, the Lodge officially opened after 17 months of renovation. The Richardsons invite area residents to stop in and check out the new facility. They concluded by stating that they thank everyone who has supported their efforts – “Dean Masonry, Norson Construction, Top of the Line Landscaping, Matt and Mary Enderle, Bill Hoops, Ron Rasmussen and countless other local tradesmen who have helped make this dream come true.”

As for Dennis’s parents, Ron and Mary Ellen, they will no longer be working at the resort, but living there. “Our work here is pretty much over,” said Mary Ellen. “We met so many nice people working at the resort. It was a great time.”

Now, the resort has become a destination for Ron and Mary Ellen, who have found a place to relax and enjoy their children and grandchildren on the shores of Big Sandy.

This article first appeared in the November 15, 2005 issue of the Voyageur Press.