WAHKON, Minn. — Here, just off Lake Mille Lacs, you can have one without the other.
Even sans snow, SNOW Fest was, well, festive — a celebration of snowmobiling Saturday in downtown Wahkon.
This was the third annual SNOW Fest, and even minus any trace of snow, about four-dozen sleds, mostly of the classic variety, and the related snowmobile film festival just inside at host Muggs of Mille Lacs boasted a nice crowd. This indeed is snowmobile country, although the nearby lake is the draw.
Normally, this time of year, it’s all about ice fishing. But again, at least now, you can have one without the other here at Mille Lacs.
Recently, there were reports of anglers on the little ice that had formed on the coves and the like on the lake. But with even balmier temperatures over the weekend, little or no ice was left by Saturday. Instead, the few anglers out this day on this part of the lake were of the open-water variety, with boats in tow around Mille Lacs. Who needs ice to fish in the winter?
In fact, with warm weather across Northland Outdoors country, ice and fishing have only been a source of trouble of late.
On Monday, nearly 50 people had to be taken off Upper Red Lake near Waskish, Minn., after several sheets of ice broke up, stranding them with their ice houses. For the last week, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has urged those who go outdoors to stay off ice on all of the state’s waters.
And last week, two anglers were rescued from Round Lake near Pettibone, N.D., after they couldn’t get back to shore because the ice had heaved and melted away from the shoreline. That caused the North Dakota Game and Fish to issue a stern warning about ice on the state’s lakes.
In Wisconsin, the state’s natural resources agency is promoting other opportunities that the warm weather is affording, such as hiking, mountain biking and even trapping and bird hunting for those who might be contemplating trading in their ice-fishing gear or snowmobiles.
On Saturday, the latter was not a consideration on the south shore of Mille Lacs. In fact, warm temperatures hovering near 40 may have gotten more people outside, checking out the sleds that lined nearly a block on Second Street off Main Avenue. Although snowless, it was a stroll down winter’s memory lane for many. From the iconic Arctic Cat Panther to the 1960ish wooden-skied Ski Doo Bombardier, Snow Fest reminded us of when snowmobiles and snowmobile companies were great — and numerous.
Besides the traditional power trio of Arctic Cat, Ski Doo and Polaris, Rupp, Yamaha, Evinrud, Moto-Ski, Harley-Davidson, Speedway, Johnson and Scorpion — the latter was headquartered in nearby Crosby, Minn. — also were on display, most in the Antique (1968 and before) and Vintage (1969-74) classes. Many were original snowmobiles that looked the part of classic. Others, like that Arctic Cat Panther, were restored to mint condition, and likely beyond — the hood on the Panther outshined even that of the few new sleds in the mix.
Yes, it was a good day to be out-of-doors. But inside at Muggs, just feet away from snowmobile-lined Second Street, dozens gathered for camaraderie sprinkled with a silent auction and door prizes.
And the film festival. This year marked the “Wahkon World Premier” of six short snowmobile action films, which played throughout the afternoon on the three big-screens in Muggs. Snowmobile groups and families filled the place — proceeds from the event go directly to the three local snowmobile clubs to maintain more than 400 miles of trails in the Mille Lacs area.
By the way, the snow in SNOW Fest is an acronym — as in Somewhere North Of Wahkon.
As they proved again, the second weekend of December, snow or not, snowmobilers always are drawn to SNOW.