Outdoors will take center stage when Willmar Lakes Area hosts Fishing Opener

Outdoors will take center stage when Willmar Lakes Area hosts Fishing Opener

February 26, 2018

Outdoors will take center stage when Willmar Lakes Area hosts Fishing Opener

WILLMAR—For those who think that walleye are the star of the show when the Willmar Lakes Area hosts the 2018 Governor’s Fishing Opener, try again.

It’s really an opportunity to showcase all of the attractions the area offers, and let people know why this is a great place to visit or call home.

Organizers are expecting 125 media guests during the four days of activities May 10-13, according to Beth Fischer, executive director of the Willmar Lakes Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. They will include reporters from traditional print, radio and television, as well as social media influencers, she said.

It’s too early to know from where they will all come, but past experience indicates that the mix of journalists will include some from out-of-state, giving the area an opportunity for exposure to audiences across the country.

The opener is worth $1.3 million in publicity value to the area, according to Explore Minnesota, which analyzed the value of the Governor’s 2017 Opener to the St. Cloud area.

St. Cloud used the opener to introduce the state to its backyard playground, the Mississippi River.

Kandiyohi County will be showcasing its front yard. The county billing itself as “where the lakes begin” will be putting its lakes front and center in the promotional efforts for the opener.

Organizers Laura and Dean Anfinson are currently recruiting 110 fishing hosts to take media representatives on local waters during the opener. They are believed to be about halfway toward their goal of finding hosts.

The area last hosted the Governor’s Fishing Opener in 1995. It also hosted the 1975 opener.

Green Lake in Spicer will play center stage for the 2018 opener, with the governor and his party trying their luck on the area’s best-known waterbody. Hosts will also be leading their media guests to Foot and Willmar Lakes, and Big Kandiyohi, Diamond and Long Lake by Willmar, and Nest Lake near Spicer. Fischer said some of the hosts may also venture to other waters and their personal fishing hot spots.

Because it’s the fishing opener, outdoor recreation opportunities will be the focus for much of the promotion, Fischer said. That’s only fitting. In her role as director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, she knows well that many of the inquiries from potential visitors to the area are focused on the area’s outdoor assets.

Sibley State Park near New London, the Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center in rural Spicer, and the Glacial Lakes Trail are among the best-known destinations, she said. The area offers many camping opportunities, thanks to the county park system and Sibley State Park, and that always accounts for many of the visitors.

A large share of the calls from interested visitors ask about kayaking, canoeing and biking opportunities, she said. When there is snow, cross country skiing and snowmobiling opportunities also rank high, she added.

But by no means are these outdoor pursuits the only reason to visit the area. The opener provides an opportunity to introduce media guests to the wide range of attractions in the area. Fischer said plans are already in the works to give media guests an opportunity to explore New London’s mix of specialty retail shops and art scene; visit the Willmar and New London microbreweries; tour the MinnWest Technology Campus in Willmar; experience Willmar’s diverse cultures and food options; and enjoy good music and the area’s sense of community with a special “Rockin Robbins” music event at Willmar’s destination park at Robbins Island.

And by all means, the guests will be provided opportunities to explore the area’s golf courses.

Much more is still in the works, everything from a Saturday shore lunch on Green Lake to a huge community dinner celebration for 3,000 at the Willmar Conference Center.

Tourism as an industry represents greater than $14.4 billion a year to Minnesota, according to Explore Minnesota. Kandiyohi County is among those benefiting, with over $90.2 million in reported activity by the county’s hospitality industry in 2015.

Explore Minnesota is working with local organizers to help make the 2018 opener a success. But Fischer noted that there is no script to follow. The event is an opportunity for the local hosts to showcase what they want. “They want us to make it our own,” she said.

West Central Tribune by Tom Cherveny