Mike and Steve Lupardus want people to remember what life was like on the Missouri River, before the 2011 flood wiped away homes, cabins and businesses in Washington County.
Cottonwood Marina, a summer destination, local hotspot and campground north of Blair, washed down the Big Muddy, taking with it decades of memories made on the water.
The Lupardus brothers knew there was a hole left that needed to be filled after the flood. They wanted to revive the area as a river destination. Besides Cottonwood, Pop-n-Doc’s Decatur Marina in Decatur and the Surfside Club, just over the county line in Omaha, are among the only businesses in the area that cater to river recreation.
“Our goal is the same — to get people back on the river,” Steve said.
Cottonwood ‘like it used to be’
The brothers grew up in Audubon, where they worked on their family’s farm. Steve, who has experience in small-acreage development and restaurants, lives in Bennington. Mike has a background in farm implement sales and resides in Jefferson, Iowa.
Steve visited Cottonwood from the late 1980s until the flood occurred. He envisions the new Cottonwood “like it used to be,” many years before the flood.
The Luparduses closed a deal on Jan. 1, 2014, to buy the Cottonwood property from owners Ben and Jo Rogge. They started construction later that month, and the county board approved their conditional use permit in March.
Since then, the brothers have been working round-the-clock with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Washington County to obtain the permits needed for construction and following the proper regulations.
The Cottonwood that people remember will not be the one they will see as early as this spring, at least not visually. When the Luparduses bought it, 10-foot sunflowers were growing on the property.
“Really, we were able to start with a clean slate because everything is gone,” Mike said.
100-lot RV park already half-full
The new Cottonwood Cove Marina and RV Resort, at 10270 Riverside Lane, sits on 71 acres. The 7,200-square-foot lodge, which will have a full-service bar and grill, is 4 feet above the 2011 flood level.
“We know there will be more floods,” Mike said.
The lodge has large garage doors that can be opened to let customers walk in and out from the marina. There will be a tiki bar in front of the lodge, which faces the marina, and an area for live music. The lodge will be open seasonally and only in the evenings, at least to start, the Luparduses said.
The marina will have a public access and about 50 covered slips, with room for 300. The center “island” by the marina was dredged.
The Cottonwood Cove’s seasonal RV campground, behind the lodge along the river, will have 100 lots with electrical, water and sewer hookups. About half of the lots are already reserved.
The RV campground and covered slips will be available to Cottonwood members only.
Plans are only first phase
The current plans are just phase one for The Cottonwood Cove, the Luparduses said. An additional 100 RV lots, more dock slips, a pool and a bathhouse have been on the table for consideration, depending on the success of phase one and the demand from customers.
“It will probably never be ‘done,’” Steve said with a laugh.
The construction at Cottonwood has been generating a lot of buzz in the area. Blair residents and business owners have been very supportive, the Luparduses said. The Cottonwood residents even brought workers coffee and cookies.
“We’re just basically blessed to have all of the support,” Mike said. “When people come in and you see the excitement, that’s what fuels us.”
The brothers and their families will be moving to the Blair area; Steve is planning to build a house.
“This is probably the last place we’ll work together,” Steve said.
The Cottonwood Cove’s lodge, RV park and some dock slips are expected to be open in the spring. A Memorial Day weekend celebration with live music will kick off the season.
The Luparduses understand that many former Cottonwood fans have sold their boats or found other vacation destinations since the flood.
“We know it’s going to take a while to get people back to the river,” Steve said.