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Lakes area considers hosting Governor's Fishing Opener

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Should the Park Rapids lakes area throw its hat in the ring - or line in the water - to host the 2011 Governor's Fishing Opener?

That's a question that will be bandied about in the upcoming weeks as the Oct. 1 deadline for a proposal approaches.

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Carol Altepeter, coordinator of the event for Explore Minnesota Tourism, spoke to a group of about 20 Monday in Park Rapids. The foremost issue initially to be addressed: sufficient lodging facilities.

"This is not a bid, but a proposal," she said. "We are looking for ideas from communities."

The concept, she said, originated in 1948 as a means to rejuvenate tourism after World War II.

"The target audience is the media," she said, who will highlight local fishing and recreational activities. About 125 media representatives are expected to attend, with the area gaining "over $600,000 in media exposure." This includes archiving information for future articles and reports, she explained.

"The dust will have settled," Chamber director Katie Magozzi said, referring to the downtown renovation project. "This is a means of letting Minnesota know we exist."

Park Rapids last hosted the event in the mid-'70s. It was based in Walker last year. This year's was held in White Bear Lake with the 2010 opener to be held at Lake Kabetogema and Ash River Trail in Voyageurs National Park.

Governor's Openers allow communities to promote outdoor recreation, what's special about the community, Altepeter said. "It develops or enhances community pride and awareness."

But she cautioned volunteer resources must be carefully weighed. The event requires "extensive community involvement," an estimated 200 to 400 people. "Volunteers make it happen."

An estimated 110 volunteers with boats - "ambassadors, not experts" - will also be recruited to take participants out on area lakes.

Other basic requirements: A lake or river (where walleyes will cooperate), a sponsoring tourism organization to rally volunteers (a Chamber of Commerce or resort association), the ability to organize fundraising and sponsorship initiatives and accommodation for at least 325 guests (on multiple locations).

"You don't want to displace current guests," Altepeter said.

The "hang-onto-your-hats" cost: $150,000 to $300,000, with an estimated $60,000 to $80,000 to be in cash and the remainder in-kind contributions.

The majority of cash costs are for lodging and tenting, she explained. Guests do not pay for lodging, but resorts and motels are not asked to provide this at no cost.

Most of the food is donated, Altepeter said. And Crestliner and other watercraft manufacturers have historically contributed a pontoon or boat and motor for a fundraising raffle.

Corporate sponsors generally follow the event, she said. The community is responsible for "signing the deal.

"We provide the sponsor list," Altepeter said. "It's up to the fundraising committee to put it into place."

Examples of previous agendas would be a governor's radio show on Friday and golfing, tours of a wildlife refuge and fisheries facilities "to showcase the area for the media."

A free community picnic would cap the day (with an estimated 2,500-plus people expected), with local organizations asked to plan activities. (First National Bank served the dinner last year.) The governor would be interviewed on TV that evening, "on site."

Saturday, the governor would head out fishing on a pre-determined lake. A shore lunch (with 600 people expected) would be served at the lake, with a kids' fishing event and celebration reception held in the evening.

Committees needed: overall planning, lodging, transportation, fundraising, activities, public relations and the community picnic. Communication among the components is key, Altepeter stressed.

A five- to six-member executive team would be responsible for guiding the event, decisions made on an hour-by-hour basis.

Applications from communities vary annually from one to six, Altepeter said. They are "scored" based on the "guts" of the proposal. Explore Minnesota makes a recommendation to the governor, who has the final say in the matter.

By Monday afternoon, the Chamber was canvassing lodging facilities to determine vacancies. Magozzi was forming a task force, hearing "a positive reaction" to the proposal.

The location of the 2011 event will be formally announced at next spring's opener. Altepeter said this was her third presentation on hosting the 2011 opener.

A community can re-submit a proposal, with necessary modifications, if it doesn't earn the nod the first time.

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