The Free Press, Mankato, MN

May 12, 2012

Mankato should consider bid for Governor's Opener

By John Cross
The Free Press

WACONIA — The sign at the city limits of Waconia reads pop. 10,692.

And for a town that size, they managed to land the big one for Minnesota Fishing Opener, 2012, the 65th Annual  Governor’s Fishing Opener.

On Friday night, at the host/angler pairings session at the Lake Waconia Event Center, Waconia Chamber of Commerce President Kellie Sites was allowing herself to relax just a bit.

“The process began four years ago when we first submitted proposals to Explore Minnesota to host the event,” she said.

Sites said she began to see the significance of hosting the event while attending state tourism conferences and how it can call attention of a community. “Nobody really knew where Waconia is or that we even have a lake,” she said.

Landing the Governor’s Opener is no simple task. Application requires a 20- to 30-page proposal drawn up by Explore Minnesota, the state’s tourism agency.

“People from Explore Minnesota told us that that this is a $300,000 event, that raffle tickets would need to be sold, that local business, the community, would all have to get involved,” Sites said. “We said we could do it.”

An initial bid in 2009 to host the event failed but a second bid submitted in 2010 to host in 2012 was accepted.

“John Edman, director of Explore Minnesota called and said ‘I’ve got some bad news — you got the opener,’” Sites said.

The event just doesn’t happen. The past two years have been filled with the meeting of some 30 committees to bring the annual event to fruition.

Sites said requirement are very specific, citing the shore lunch as an example. “The type of fish, the kinds of potatoes that can be served, that’s all spelled out.”

In the end, for a couple of days, the community basks in the limelight of hosting the state’s chief executive and a cadre of media messengers under the guise of hopefully catching a few fish.

Referring to all of the television satellite trucks broadcasting live Friday night during a community picnic expected to serve more than 7,000 people, she said hosting the Governor’s Opener is estimated to be worth $600,000 worth of media exposure to a community.

Since the first Governor’s Opener was held in 1948, an informal affair during Gov. Luther Youngdahl’s tenure, numerous communities have host the event which has evolved into a major undertaking.

While locales in northern Minnesota dominate the list, several have been held in southern regions. They include Willmar in 1975 and 1995; Faribault in 1985; Fairmont in 1987; Red Wing in 1998.

Mankato has never hosted one.

And that is a curious thing when one considers that Mankato is the home of Johnson Outdoors, Inc., a major maker fishing equipment, popular Alumacraft Boats at produced a few miles up the road in St. Peter, dozens of great fishing lakes are within a 20 minute drive of Mankato.

Perhaps it is time.