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White Bear Lake is 'up north' again, at least for this weekend

WHITE BEAR, Minn. (AP) -- Lake Country Booksellers has extra copies of "The Great Minnesota Fish Book" on hand.

The barbers at Benny's will offer a discounted "Governor's Special" haircut.

And Tally's Dockside plans on stuffing its bait cooler with 300 dozen worms, night crawlers and leeches -- that's on top of the pyramid of Land Shark Lager cases stacked in the small boat-rental shop on White Bear Lake.

"We're stocking up. You just never know. We don't want to run out if we (can) help it," owner Jan Dehnert said. "We have no idea what to expect."

That's because the 2009 Governor's Fishing Opener -- for the first time in its 61-year history -- wets its lines in the metro area on Saturday and Sunday.

Since 1948, the annual kickoff to walleye season has promoted tourist destinations in northern Minnesota -- pine-and-flannel spots such as International Falls, Pequot Lakes and Bemidji. But this year, the two-day event in suburban White Bear Lake will attract more than 100 members of the media, along with Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau, state and local politicians and local event organizers. In all, more than 300 people will attend the junket.

With an anticipated $600,000 in free publicity, the city by the lake doesn't want to miss an opportunity to showcase itself.

"So much tourism money is spent in the metro area; why not promote quaint White Bear?" asked Bill Foussard, owner of the White Bear Country Inn and chair of the local opener committee.

A glad-handing community booster, Foussard and Explore White Bear have lobbied since 2004 to get the opener in their back yard. On top of submitting annual applications to Explore Minnesota Tourism, Foussard showed up at a few Pawlenty appearances -- dressed in a fish suit -- to push for the event.

It was Foussard's persistence -- along with the city being the sole applicant for the 2009 event -- that brought the opener to White Bear Lake, said Carol Altepeter, event coordinator for the state.

"It was the year it worked out for them. Everything fell in place, and it's working out really well," she said.

The opener can cost a community anywhere from $100,000 to $200,000 -- much of it in-kind contributions. Donations from Famous Dave's, Outback Steakhouse, Pine Tree Apple Orchard and Grandma's Bakery, among others, have helped defray the costs, Foussard said.

Then there's all the free labor that has to be corralled.

Local co-chair Sara Hanson said 400 to 500 volunteers will have a hand in pulling off the event -- including the fraternal groups cleaning up parks in town, local residents guiding participants and folks serving food.

"It's kind of like hosting a graduation party at your house," she said of the substantial preparations.

There's new royal-blue paint on the landmark Johnson Boat Works building, another fresh coat on the sailboat sculpture at U.S. 61 and Fourth Street and even a new layer on the toilet stalls at VFW Post 1782 -- site of the governor's sendoff breakfast early Saturday morning.

In addition:

-- Students at area schools decorated 15 wooden walleye sculptures to be displayed around downtown over the weekend.

-- The boat launch at the public beach was dredged, with extra docking slated for the 100 or so boats expected.

-- Vintage pictures -- from the days when White Bear Lake was considered an up-north resort town -- are on display around town, courtesy of the local historical society.

"Really, 1870 to 1910 was the boom of the resort era," said Hanson, who also heads the historical society.

Fed by railroads and streetcars coming out of St. Paul, large hotels once dotted White Bear: William's House, Chateaugay, the Leip House. All are gone now.

"This town has so much history; we just have to let people know about it," Foussard said.

Reporters from television, radio, newspapers and magazines are slated to cover the weekend. For the first time ever, state media coordinator C.J. Johnson said, the local Spanish-language Univision station will be dockside, too. Openers past have attracted media from England, Germany and Japan, but this year won't have any international guests -- unless you consider Winnipeg international.

Though the weekend focuses on showing off the community for the media, a free Friday-evening picnic for residentsis expected to draw as many as 5,000 people to Railroad Park.

Downtown retailers are preparing for the event, too. Along with the "Fish Book" author signing, the barbershop's discount and Tally's stockpile of beer and bait, practically every bar in town is listed on a flyer promoting a fishing-opener pub crawl -- starting Thursday and ending Saturday.

"I imagine it's going to be a busy time for everyone in the downtown area," said Richie Suchy, owner of Hollihan's Pub on Third Street. He plans on adding extra staff to his neon-lit bar over the weekend and might even switch from glassware to plastic cups if the crowd swells.

Nearby, Washington Square Grill general manager Naomi See expects the weekend to be "craziness."

"We're right in the middle of it all," she said.

Her spot is putting a tent over its patio, bringing in live music and slinging "fishing themed" beer, such as Lakemaid.

"We're hoping it's a huge summer for this town," she said. "Bringing more people to our town is always a good thing."