Profile: Lawrence Lake Marina
The marina's new party deck where bands and good eats reign.
Lawrence Lake Marina
“Our goal,” said owners Kim and Jeannie Benson of Lawrence Lake Marina in Brownsville, Minn., “is to create a fun, happy, family atmosphere. If we do that, we think people will come.”
That philosophy seems to be working, because, since they bought the marina in 2010, when it had 39 slips, they currently have all their 62 slips full and are headed for their maximum permitted number of 79 in 2013. “We’ve been filling them as fast as we build them,” Kim said.
Located on the Mississippi River at UMRM 690, RDB, about 8 miles south of LaCrosse, Wis., the marina is off the channel in an area known as Lawrence Lake. “We knew it could be a destination,” Kim said, because it’s a pleasant boat ride from LaCrosse and also attracts folks from the south, where there are few commercial locations.
All this hasn’t come easily, however. After taking over in September 2010, heavy rains caused flooding that bent spud poles and damaged the docks. Over the winter, they removed, refurbished and improved all the docks. When the water froze, they used a Bobcat on the ice to repair the damaged poles.
The following spring, they got hit again when more heavy flooding brought down so much debris that it dislodged the upstream walkway and bent more poles. Heavy cables they had rigged prevented losing the walkway entirely.
This time, they replaced all the damaged poles with larger ones, sunk them deeper and added more for greater strength and stability.
Through all this, Kim credited the amount of help they got from their three children’s families and the community. “We couldn’t have done it without them,” he said.
What also helped was that Kim had managed a marina in Wisconsin for five years, so he was river savvy. He also understands boats; at one time, he specialized in rebuilding older Harbor Master houseboats. His work was featured in Houseboat Magazine in May 2008.
Their onshore remodeling included building the Bonefish Bar and party deck, gutting and remodeling their combination ship’s store/bait shop/office, remodeling the bathrooms and doing some landscaping. Their living quarters above the store have had some work, but this is the year for more renovations there.
Customers enjoyed the bands they had occasionally on the party deck, so now there is live entertainment three days a week: Friday from 6 to 9 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 3 to 6 p.m. On the weekends, hot bar food prepared with trans fat-free oil is available. Another signature is serving the coldest beer they can.
But the big food draw on Friday nights is the cook-your-own 14- to 16-ounce rib eye dinners for $12.50. A hot grill, baked potato, green salad and “all the Texas toast you can eat” is provided. The rest is up to the customers, including busing their own tables, which nobody minds.
All this happens between Memorial and Labor Days, though the marina is actually open from May 1 to the end of October. A pontoon boat is available for rent during that time. Service work, winterizing and shrink-wrapping can be arranged.
But Lawrence Lake Marina isn’t just a summer destination. Several weeks after the boating season ends, the ice starts forming and Kim opens seven days a week again to service his ice fishing customers. He holds monthly ice fishing tournaments through the season and last year started a youth ice fishing derby for kids. He had more than 100 entrants for the initial event, and he and some sponsors gave away fishing poles and prizes to all the contestants. During that part of the year, he gets regular calls from folks in their ice shanties for carry-out hot pizza.
And so the seasons roll on, with boating starting up shortly after the ice fishing ends. Last year Kim said the ice went out on Tuesday and they were launching boats by Friday.
There are no dull moments at Lawrence Lake Marina, but Jeannie said Kim is as happy as she has ever seen him. Folks sense that, and just like the Benson’s thought, if you provide the right atmosphere, people will come.
AT A GLANCE
Lawrence Lake Marina
PO Box 114
8995 Lawrence Lane
Brownsville, MN 55919
Hours: May 1 to October 31, Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to5:30 p.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Winter hours in ice fishing season, seven days a week, 8 a.m. to closing.
Fuel: 89 octane with ethanol.
Transient docking: Up to 85 feet with 30 amp, 110 volt electricity and water.
Water depth: 9 feet at gas dock; 5 feet in harbor.
Monitors: VHF channel 16.
Amenities: Ship’s store, bait shop, launch ramp, restrooms, snacks, hot food on weekends, Bonefish Bar and party deck, live bands three days a week in season. Service work, shrink-wrapping and winterizing available upon arrangement. Winter ice fishing tournaments for adults and kids; hot food available and launch ramp.
Getting there by water: 3/4 mile above Mississippi River Mile 690 on RDB at entrance to Lawrence Lake
Getting there by land: Minnesota Highway 26 in Brownsville, Minn.