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Governor’s Fishing Opener set for Park Rapids

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PARK RAPIDS — Old Man Winter may be refusing to release his talons this spring, but the Governor’s Fishing Opener is definitely a go.

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“No date changes will occur,” Katie Magozzi, director of the Park Rapids Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, said of the May 9-11 “Catch a Memory” event in Park Rapids.

“It will go on – rain or shine or ice,” GFO event chair Dennis Mackedanz agreed. “We’ve dedicated a lot of effort to this. We will celebrate.”

Three weeks remain before the governor, lieutenant governor and a cadre of media descend on the city. Members of the governor’s staff arrived Tuesday for a site check, giving the Chamber’s plans a thumbs up.

Meanwhile, the big chill has heated up humor. A batch of witty, wily suggestions on tempering the Old Man’s grip has been posted on Facebook. A 9-year-old has proposed bringing back the chainsaw carvers to create ice sculptures. And photos are springing up on Facebook, a truck pulling a boat across the frozen lake among the latest.

Department of Natural Resources data shows the median ice-out date on Fish Hook is April 26. But recent years have seen the pendulum swing to both extremes. Records since 1983 show the earliest date was last year’s March 26 ice-out. The latest was 2010’s April 28.

Potato has a median date of April 24 with the earliest, also recorded last year, March 27 and the latest May 8 in 2008.

Island’s median date is April 23, with April 12 the earliest, in 2006, and April 24 the latest, in 1999. Dates were not available for Eagle Lake’s open water.

Statistics are in our favor, Magozzi said, noting Fish Hook is relatively shallow with its maximum depth of 76 feet.

“We’ve never had ice on the opener,” Magozzi said, at least in recent history. A longtime area fisherman recalled hearing that ice covered some lakes in an early ‘50s opener, but Park Rapids Enterprise archives do not substantiate this.

The Fish Hook chain of lakes was selected as the hosting chain because it traditionally has an early ice-out, Butch DeLaHunt told WCCO radio this week. The Governor’s Fishing Opener media relations chair said the community has put countless hours into planning and “is very excited about showcasing our community.”

But he acknowledged, “We need some help from Mother Nature – ­sun, heat, rain, wind …”

Fish Hook Lake’s walleye abundance is at the highest it’s been since 1983, according to the Department of Natural Resources. Walleye size variations are well-represented, from 13 to 20 inches with lunkers up to 26 inches.

Guests will be advised of the more than 400 fishing lakes, rivers and streams within a 25-mile radius of the city, offering diverse fishing opportunities.

“It will happen,” Magozzi said. “I have positive visions of open water; thoughts become things,” she said, challenging the community to eradicate “ice” and “snow” from the vernacular.

“The whole purpose is to celebrate the community, to showcase our quality of life, the wonderful projects” that have been completed in the past decade and are continuing to evolve, she said of the city’s Red Bridge landmark, the continuation of the Heartland Trail.

“We’re a community on the grow.”

The Friday afternoon of the event will hold something to engage everyone’s appetite and imagination.

A monstrous tent with heaters will be set up from Main Street to Highway 71 for the community picnic.

Nearly 400 people have stepped forward to volunteer time and talent for the overall agenda.

Park Rapids is the first-ever municipality to roll out the red carpet a day early, offering tours of the area’s unique features Thursday. And this will be the first GFO community picnic to culminate with fireworks.

Friday’s schedule includes booths and family activities starting at 3:30 p.m. on the first two blocks of Main Street.

GFO sponsors and community organizations will be among those represented. Some fun events will include a climbing wall, authentic NASCAR simulator, interactive fishing, a fish filleting contest with local celebrities and dozens more. To date, 36 sponsors and community organizations have requested booth space.

Park Rapids’ family-owned and -operated resorts ­– still providing the traditional “cabin at the lake” – will be highlighted.

Raffle tickets for the 2013 Crestliner boat and Ice Castle fish house will also be on sale at Friday’s events.

A short program featuring Gov. Mark Dayton is planned at 4 p.m. A free dinner served on Second Street, between Main and Highway 71, will follow the program until 7:30 p.m.

“We are prepared for 2,500 people,” Magozzi said of the menu of pulled pork sandwiches, Captain Ken’s baked beans, Lamb Weston/RDO french fries cooked on site, Land o’ Lakes ice cream, fresh fruit and beverages.

Incredibly Real will strike up the band from 3:30 to 3:50 p.m. Smoky Hills Drum will perform from 3:50 to 4 p.m. Four No More will take the stage from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. followed by the Wranglers from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Tree Party will entertain until the pyrotechnics light up the sky at 8:30 p.m.

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