WE Fest campers roll on in
It seems like the entire city of Detroit Lakes is bracing for the whirlwind that is WE Fest. Love it or hate it, there's no doubt the most popular country music fest in the country certainly has an incredible impact on the town and its people.
At least 50,000 people are expected to pass through the Soo Pass over the four-day event, most of them visitors to Detroit Lakes.
And while some residents admit they try to stay clear of town during this time, others embrace it as a chance to party with friends and family -- and business owners are gearing up for what tends to be a very lucrative time of year.
"We are new, so we don't know exactly what to expect, but there's no doubt it will be busy," said Steve Larson, the general manager for Seven Sisters Spirits, which is not only a sponsor of WE Fest, but is located essentially right down the road from the festival.
Although the liquor store just opened late this spring, employees there are ready for action.
"We'll have a semi-trailer full of ice and we'll be selling coke products out of a big coke truck. We'll also have some vendors there using our property, so we'll have some hot dogs and another one with like Mexican breakfast burritos..." said Larson, adding that they'll also be offering a shuttle to get campers and concert-goers to and from their store safely.
An inaugural year of WE Fest also has the staff at the new Jimmy Johns playing the guessing game while preparing for a rush.
"It's always a gamble when you're talking about bread because here after four hours, it's considered day-old," said Jimmy John's Owner Jake Peters. "And so basically we have to try to figure out how much to bake and when."
Of course, the brand new restaurant in town will be staffed to the max and busy doing extra slicing, extra baking and putting in extra hours. "It'll be some pretty early mornings," laughed Peters, "but we're excited to see what it's going to be like." And while Jimmy John's won't be delivering out to WE Fest, they do expect to be busy driving down to the beach.
Meanwhile, the water on the Ottertail River is extremely low this year, putting tubing companies on edge as to whether or not they'll be able to offer the popular pastime.
Although the tubes at Charlie's on Highway 34 are ready to go, staff there is still busy. "Yeah, we're busy praying," said Charlie's Tubing Owner Cathy Pihlajas, who says as of Tuesday afternoon they were still able to function. "We have to play it day by day though because there are already a few spots where it's so low they have to walk," said Pihlajas, "but if we get a couple of inches of rain we'll be good. We just need some water."
Keeping people safe during a time when the population of the city swells -- as does the alcohol consumption -- isn't always an easy task, but it's old hat to law enforcement.
"The biggest thing we do for town is traffic control," said Detroit Lakes Police Chief Tim Eggebraaten, who says they will not be allowing parking on West Lake Drive next to the beach and will be putting up 'no left turn' signs along West Lake Drive, Willow Street, Washington Avenue and North Shore Drive in order to keep traffic flowing.
"We'll also have somebody posted at Willow and (Highway) 59 to keep people going north and southbound, and that's something that's seemed to help over the years," said Eggebraaten.
There will also be an extra team from the Minnesota State Patrol already in town to assist with traffic issues. The city also has extra enforcement working to deal with any alcohol related incidents, but Eggebraaten says he doesn't expect too much trouble.
"Everybody is generally pretty well-behaved," he said. A private security company hired by WE Fest and the Becker County Sheriff's Office are the agencies that will be handling most of the WE Fest issues, and Becker County Sheriff Tim Gordon says they're ready to be proactive.
"What we've learned over the years is that we need to see problems as they're just starting to escalate and put the hammer down right there ... we have zero tolerance," said Gordon, adding that his department will have a full contingency of officers out around WE Fest, as well as a full staff working the normal county routes.
"We still need to uphold the integrity of the rest of the county," said Gordon. There will be an investigative team set up for the more serious crimes out at WE Fest, but Gordon says over the years people have seemed to calm down significantly as a decade ago they had an arrest average of 160 and last year that was way down to 60.
"And so when you think about it, when you have 50,000 to 60,000 people and that much alcohol, 60 arrests isn't too bad," said Gordon. "If everyone just stays patient and stays safe, this can be a really good weekend."