“When it first started, it was all about fishing,’’ said Ronnei, 57, who has worked at Grand View for 37 years. “It was a Memorial Day-to-Labor Day operation. It’s evolved.’’
The late “Brownie” Cote, owner, added tennis courts, then a golf course. Nearby Cragun’s and Madden’s resorts also built golf courses, making Gull Lake a golfer’s destination. Conference centers and spas followed. So did snowmobiles and snowmobile trails.
Why Gull Lake?
“Gull is deep and clean and cold,’’ Ronnei said. “It’s a big lake with places to go. There’s 14 places to stop and have a sandwich or beer, and lots of beautiful houses to see.
“And it’s that magic distance from the Twin Cities — the northern suburbs are just over 2 hours away. That makes a lake home or weekend resort experience very doable.’’
Said John Taylor, 67, longtime Gull Lake resident and former president of the Gull Chain of Lakes Association:
“It just seems to have an allure. I’ve met so many people over the years who stay at a resort and end up buying a cabin and staying here. There’s just something unique about it. It’s hard to put into words.’’
Visitors still come to Grand View to fish, Ronnei said. And Gull is still noted as a stellar walleye and bass lake. But many guests come for the golf, spas, yoga, cooking classes, wine tasting seminars and kids programs.
Last summer, 73 percent of the boat traffic on Gull Lake was recreational, and 27 percent was fishing-related, said Marc Bacigalupi, Department of Natural Resources area fisheries manager in Brainerd.
“People used to come here to fish,’’ said Marv Koep, 72, former bait shop owner and fishing guide who helped form the legendary Nisswa Guide’s League, a roster of fishing guides that included Al and Ron Lindner, Gary Roach, Harry Van Dorn and Koep.
“Now it’s golfing,’’ Koep said. “Fishing isn’t the priority anymore. That changed when the mom-and-pop resorts quit.’’
But ice-out occurred last Saturday, and they’ll be plenty of anglers on Gull this weekend, including Gov. Mark Dayton and his entourage.
Gangsters and gambling
Not all of those who have come to Gull Lake were attracted by the scenery and good fishing. Erv Anderson constructed Big Bar Harbor, a watering hole, built partly over the water on the north side of Gull in 1938. It soon became famous for illegal gambling, including slot machines, which was not uncommon in that era. An estimated 8,500 one-armed bandits were in use around the state in 1946.
Law enforcement was left to the counties, and was sporadic and often ineffective.
“Bar Harbor is in Cass County, and the county seat is Walker, 50 miles away,’’ said Cragun. “By the time the sheriff’s posse came down from Walker, someone always tipped them off and gave them time to roll the slots out to pickup trucks.
“After the sheriff left, they’d have the machines up and running within an hour.’’
Gambling also brought gangsters.