Eelpout Festival reports cancellation of 41st annual event on Leech Lake in Walker.
The festival was scheduled Feb. 20-23. On the event’s website, organizers said they made the announcement with a “heavy heart” for this season. Jared Olson, the organizer of the festival, also announced the cancellation on the event’s official Facebook page Thursday morning, Jan. 2, citing “an impasse on lake enforcement” with Cass County as a primary reason for its indefinite postponement.
“Over the years, attendance has multiplied substantially,” the notice on the website stated. “Each year with more attendees, equals — more traffic, more trash and more safety concerns. After trying to work with the county for the past 5 months to develop a solution for this year’s event, we have come to an impasse on lake enforcement.
“Because we are the only permit holder required to supply services and clean up, and are not allowed to control the lake, the economics no longer work. We provided a concept/proposal to move all commercial activity off the ice and into Downtown Walker, and this too was not going to allow for acceptable permit process for both parties.”
Previously, the contest officials reported they were moving commercial and vendor activities off the lake to spots on land. Thursday, organizers stated they committed tens of thousand of dollars in the past years to cleanup on the lake, supplying port-a-potties, ice road maintenance and trash pickup.”
Last year during the festival, the ice flooded then froze, freezing trucks, fish houses and everything else into the ice over one night.
Cass County spent $11,675, according to Administrator Joshua Stevenson, to help people get their equipment off the ice. The county was not reimbursed by either the event promoter or those whose equipment froze in the ice.
Walker and Cass County officials met late last year to lay the groundwork to set a joint policy to minimize garbage and bathroom residue from going into lakes as a lead-up to the planned Eelpout Festival. Walker Mayor Ed Shaw, city council member Gary Wilkening and county commissioners Scott Bruns and Dick Downham comprise the committee
The Eelpout Festival is required annually to obtain a surface water permit from the sheriff’s office for activities on Leech Lake and to comply with the county’s lawful assembly ordinance that applies to any large gathering of people.
For many years, county staff cleaned garbage, including human waste, from the ice after event organizers said they had cleaned up after the Eelpout Festival. More recently, the county began requiring event organizers to hire their own garbage cleanup service and to provide portable bathroom facilities during the event. That was much more successful, officials said.
The committee reported Tuesday, Nov. 19, to the Cass County Board its preliminary thinking this year will be to require the city and county to approve the promoter’s trash cleanup and sanitation plans as a condition of the water surface permit approval and prior to the city approving a street closure for locating an event tent on land adjacent to the lake.
The committee showed interest in encouraging vendors to locate on land rather than on the lake and for seeing the water surface permit to be limited to 23 hours for the fishing contest only.
“Unfortunately, the costs of all these items are rising and the inability to enforce clean up and participation for all festival goers, attendees and vendors it is no longer feasible to operate the festival under the (Cass) County requirements that change and increase every year,” the Eelpout Festival announcement stated. “This year there will be no fishing contest or on ice commercial activity from the festival. We will NOT supply ice roads, porta potties or trash removal during what would historically be the Festival weekend. We have had a great ride and appreciate all of you loyal ‘POUTERS’ over the years and thank you for your support.