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Walker's Eelpout Festival attracts 10,000

The usual parade of colorful characters makes Eelpout a primo people watching sport Saturday in Walker. SARAH SMITH | PARK RAPIDS ENTERPRISE1 / 2
Bemidji resident Stacy Razink and Nic Thompson, of Bagley, wait their turn to take the polar plunge in Walker. SARAH SMITH | PARK RAPIDS ENTERPRISE2 / 2

WALKER -- The essence of the International Eelpout Festival came alive with daredevils plunging into freezing Leech Lake, colorfully dressed characters wearing dead animals parading their stuff and a new activity - eelpout curling.

On a beautiful weekend, the 33rd annual International Eelpout Festival, a rowdy celebration of perpetual youth attracted 10,000 to Leech Lake's Walker Bay.

"I've been coming since 1989 and this is the most perfect weekend I can remember," said Tim Swanson of Clear Lake. "I've only missed two, one for the birth of my son and one for a broken back."

But Swanson was stepping gingerly with a cane to get around.

The annual Pout Polar Plunge raised in excess of $30,000 for the Walker Area Community Center.

The air space above Walker Bay could have used some air traffic control as small planes and helicopters steered clear of each other, there was so much aerial sightseeing.

Pouters walked about in shorts, T-shorts and there was a notable group of men in kilts. One, who only identified himself as "Lucky" was posing for photos with visitors.

The Chase Hotel's ice bar glittered under a huge tent, but the dance floor was treacherous.

Jeff Teeple of St. Paul, was welcoming guest Pouters to his Igloo Bar. "We've been doing this three or four years," he said.

A dude named Rob Perpich was munching on a "Flaming Hot Cheetos sandwich" - chips stuffed between two pieces of bread.

The Maple Grove man and his buddies were playing "hammerschlagen," a beer drinking game of inebriated "skilled carpentry" in which contestants pound large nails into a stump. Extra points are given for hammer handling tricks. The losers had to eat bait.

"Well, okay, it's drunken pounding if you want to get down to the basics," Perpich said.

Then turning introspective, he says, "Would you vote for me if I ran for office?"

A brave Girl Scout set up a table to sell cookies but was dwarfed by beer signs. But as the beer flowed, so did cookie sales.

The festival winds up Sunday and most of the participants may need Presidents Day to recover.

SARAH SMITH is a reporter for the Park Rapids Enterprise. The Bemidji Pioneer and the Enterprise are Forum Communications Co. newspapers.