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Eelpout under way with 10,000 winter-weary funsters

A Richard Simmons look-alike and his team of exercisers plunges into an icy pit. Last year 140 plungers raised $25,000 for the Walker Area Community Center. Organizers hoped to surpass it this year. (Sarah Smith/Enterprise)1 / 3
The best way to tour the area is on the rolling couch. (Sarah Smith/Enterprise)2 / 3
The fish home decor contest brought out many creative entries. this one has a quasi-Mardi Gras theme, if you overlook the deer.3 / 3

The raucous weekend festival that celebrates a homely fish kicked off Friday in Walker, with 10,000 people expected for the usual rollicking good time.

The 30th Annual Eelpout Festival is a brisk break from the winter doldrums.

"I'm sweating!" complained first-time Pouter Randy Reynolds, of Blue Springs, Mo. He looked like a down-stuffed doughboy. Somebody forgot to tell him that layering is the best clothing option.

All 70 rooms of the new Chase Hotel, and all 40 condos were filled to the brim. The hotel's food and beverage manager, James Taylor, was hoping the 48 kegs of beer chilling on the ice would be sufficient.

A home décor contest would have Martha Stewart pray for the sanctity of her jail cell. One of the most popular entrants had a Mardi Gras-inspired theme, if you can call a deer head smoking a pipe, drinking from a beer tube and draped in bead necklaces the proper pre-Lent décor.

"Watch your step, the hot tub leaked," said Joe Hendricks of Kimball, wading in ankle-deep slush.

The usual parade of people and man-made sleds slid up and down the icy lake avenues. One sled, a giant satellite dish filled with beer-swilling guys being towed by an ATV, got pulled over by conservation officers for not having a proper tow bar. The magic saucer riders took their beers to the nearest fish house to finish. No problem. Less to spill.

Eric Forsberg, a beer distributor from Brainerd, said the event is one of the biggest all year - a sudsy economic stimulus package if you will.

"It's a great event," he said. "But everyone has a designated river if they need one."

To read more about the Eelpout Festival, read next weekend's print edition of the Park Rapids Enterprise.