What a difference a year makes.
In 2008, the traditional Minnesota walleye fishing opener in Bemidji was a bust. The ice was still on many local lakes, it was colder than most could remember, a brisk wind chased people off the lakes. In general, the opener was miserable -- both to anglers and to the local businesses that count on opening weekend traffic.
This year, the ice is out, the skies are clear and it should be a wonderful fishing opener. It might be a little cool, but certainly tolerable compared to last year. And it may drizzle from time to time, but we're hardy and we know summer is near.
This weekend could serve as a harbinger of how well our tourism-oriented community will fare for the summer. There's a deep recession on in full force, but we could actually see some benefits.
People still want to recreate and fishing is their No. 1 recreation in Minnesota. Last year travel was limited because of high gasoline prices at the pump. Predictions call for a bump in gas prices, but certainly not to the level seen a year ago. But with a recession, people this year will still be looking for experiences close to home, having limited time and limited budgets.
That's where we could do well, as north-central Minnesota can be a destination point for many Minnesotans who live in the metro area or in the southern farmlands who want a break to the forests and lakes.
Judging from the inventories regional sporting goods stores are stocking for the fishing opener, they must be predicting a good turnout this weekend, and on into the summer. High quality places like Itasca State Park and Lake Bemidji State Park will also help draw visitors, as well as the many festivals and events planned throughout the summer.
As for this weekend, the weather should be good and we hope the fishing is also good. We welcome our visitors, and thank them for patronizing our lodging, resorts, restaurants, convenience stores and our retail community while they're here.
We also ask that everyone practice safe boating -- avoid boating while drinking and make sure there is a life preserver for everyone on board.
Most of all, have fun -- it's been a long winter!