The Bertram Chain of Lakes Advisory Council has decided clearly defined limitations, restrictions, rules and regulations will require additional review and approval before the Frostbite Challenge 2015 ice fishing tournament can be moved from Pelican Lake. Council members spent the better part of a two-hour meeting last Friday discussing a request by Frostbite Challenge organizers that was recapped by Wes Olson. Discussion of the Frostbite Challenge request was a continued item from the Bertram Chain of Lakes Advisory Council’s last two meetings. Olson, a current Bertram Chain of Lakes Advisory Council member, also represented the Monticello Chamber of Commerce & Industry, the winter event’s lead organizer. Olson is also a member of the Monticello Lions Club, a Frostbite Challenge sponsoring organization. Previously, Olson told Bertram Regional Park Advisory Council members that 2014 would be the last year the Frostbite Challenge fishing tournament would be held at Pelican Lake. That’s because the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will be working with Ducks Unlimited to draw down lake water levels in three phases to improve water quality and enhance waterfowl habitat.
Pelican Lake is one of only 48 designated wildlife lakes in Minnesota. That designation gives DNR authority to manage water levels in a way that primarily benefits wildlife habitat. The first drawdown phase will draw the lake down from its current level of 954.5 feet above sea level to the ordinary high water level (OHW) of 952.2 feet. The second phase will draw the lake down another 1.5 feet to the lake’s new long-term water level. Phase three will lower the lake to 944 feet in a temporary management drawdown lasting a maximum of three years. DNR plans to construct an outlet on the southeast corner of Pelican Lake and draw down the water level in three steps by way of Regal Creek and the Crow River. Olson said that the Frostbite Challenge Committee remains interested in bringing its catch and-release fishing tournament event to Bertram next year. Moving the early morning kids fishing contest and the afternoon adult fishing event would require motor vehicle access and use of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) for snow movement and general set-up, plus warming and weigh-in tents on the ice at Bertram Lake. The Frostbite Challenge request presented by Olson prompted questions and concerns from Tom Jahnke, another Bertram Chain of Lakes Regional Park Advisory Council member. Prior to the March 7 meeting, Jahnke submitted a letter outlining his concerns.
“There have been a lot of questions about the fishing tournament itself and what’s involved,” Olson said, adding the tournament is a two-day event when preparation time is included. “We have to plow the snow for safety reasons and to create a perimeter that prevents water from coming up into the holes,” he said, adding about 50 percent of the families involved in this year’s Frostbite Challenge kids’ fishing event also participated in the adult fishing event.
Olson directly addressed the points in Jahnke’s letter. “I respect Tom a lot, and after reading his letter, I would like to address his concerns,” Olson said.
Jahnke wanted to know if the Frostbite Challenge committee had done “exhaustive research” to explore the possibility of using another lake in the county.
“Yes, there has been research done, and our effort has been met with nothing but frustration,” Olson said. “We need space to park 600 to 800 cars. The Bertram Chain of Lakes plan includes nearly, if not over, 1,000 eventually planned parking spaces. You have plenty of parking.” According to Olson, if another lake was used, the Frostbite Challenge committee would have to hire buses and shuttle people over a distance. “We are not willing to go that far,” Olson said. “We don’t have another place to do this. We want to drill about 1,200 holes. We only sell 1,000 tickets, and won’t be taking the entire lake.”
Jahnke wanted the Frostbite Challenge committee to consider using battery-powered augers only. Olson said organizers would need 40 battery operated ice augers with two batteries. “You are not going to get those types of ice augers donated, Olson said. “It’s a moot point, because two years ago, before Tom was on the committee, we already agreed someday we would have a fishing tournament on Bertram and had already agreed to gas-powered augers.”
Pete Stupar, another Bertram Advisory Council member, announced his resignation prior to the start of the March 7 meeting. During discussion of the Frostbite Challenge fishing tournament request, Stupar said one of his key reasons for leaving involved the Bertram Advisory Council’s current membership slate. “It should be make up of a group of sports people who know what’s happening,” Stupar said. “Ninety percent of what goes in this park is sports. When I was defeated on the outboard motor regulation vote, I bit my tongue, but I knew better, because you need gas-powered ice augers to drill holes versus propane or electric. When your taxpayers start dishing out money to run this park, you can’t keep slapping them on the hands.”
Advisory Council Chairman Martin Dibben said Stupar needed to put things into the proper context. “Just because you are a sportsman or sportswoman or fish, it doesn’t mean you have any more say than any other group that’s interested in a different aspect,” Dibben said. “In the beginning, the public favored a more platonic usage rather than a typical usage for this park.”
Jim Lindberg, another advisory council member, disagreed with Stupar’s comment.
“What Pete just said is totally wrong,” Lindberg said. “There are a lot of people out there who use this park for recreational running, skiing and walking.”
Jahnke took Olson to task regarding the use of battery-powered augers. “I think you can do a kids program on Bertram without motorized equipment,” Jahnke said. “Kids can walk through snow. I disagree on the batter powered auger. I’ve had one that can drill 60 holes. You can auger the holes with battery operated equipment. If it’s just for kids, you don’t need a tent. The adult ice fishing contest is not unique to Wright County. You can call it a contest or a derby, they are fun. I participate. Why do you have to do it here?”
Dibben agreed with Jahnke regarding his comments about kids’ fishing.
“You can use the kids contest to teach them what’s wrong with a massive contest and change the attitude of children,” Dibben said. “That’s what’s needed. I’m strongly in favor of doing the children’s contest in the park at the same time, because the concept of the park is educational outreach.”
Olson pressed for a decision at the March 7 meeting: “I’ve stressed to the Lions and the Chamber that there’s a chance that this won’t happen. I think I’ve represented this council quite well with both of those organizations. Let’s make a decision and move on.” Pat Sawatzke, another Bertram Chain of Lakes Advisory Council member and Wright County commissioner, said he could support moving the tournament to Bertram but only under certain conditions.
“I don’t think we’ve gotten far enough into those conditions today,” Sawatzke said. “We need to have a checklist, so we don’t have people going out there doing something that upsets everyone. Are we going to allow a motorized vehicle to plow? What’s the size of the event footprint. I don’t have a problem with ice augers, but I would like the message to be sent to the public that this is a non-motorized lake.”
Angela Schumann, Monticello community development director, suggested the advisory council’s park use subcommittee take up the Frostbite Challenge discussion and outline use parameters.
Jahnke said he was disappointed in Olson’s reaction to his comment about just holding an ice fishing program for kids. “There are two separate issues here,” he said. “There’s a fishing contest for adults that can be held anywhere and there’s a program for kids that’s adaptable to this park,” Jahnke said.
Olson said the Monticello Lions would have “no problem” going out and spending $5,000 on a kids’ fishing tournament, but the Monticello Chamber of Commerce has to answer to its 348 members. “Don’t demonize the Chamber of Commerce for doing its job,” Olson said. “They need to run projects that bring people into town. They need to either break even or make a profit. The chamber makes decisions that promote of business within the community.”
Sandra Theros offered a motion to have the Bertram Chain of Lakes Regional Parks Advisory Council move foreword with the 2015 Frostbite Challenge.
Lindberg offered a friendly amendment to Theros’ motion, adding language to require limitations, restrictions and clearly defined rules and regulations.
Theros suggested a May 1 deadline for the advisory council to act. Marc Mattice, Wright County Parks administrator, suggested Lindberg’s conditions amendment come back as actual wording in a special use permit that would be reviewed by the council at its May 2 meeting.
“If you vote positively for this proposal, it still means there are steps and regulations to be debated,” Dibben said prior to joining Jahnke casting the only no votes during roll call.
Contact Tim Hennagir at [email protected]