MCGREGOR, Minn. –Events are set to start Friday around McGregor with a headquarters at Big Sandy Lodge & Resort for the 69th annual Governor’s Fishing Opener..
Ever since the announcement last year at this time at Lake Vermillion, the McGregor community has been preparing for their first such event and all the exposure that goes with it.
Some 350 media representatives and sponsors are expected to visit the McGregor area during the three-day event according to event coordinator Carol Altepeter. They include print, TV, social media, web and radio mediums, mostly from the Midwest states.
Media are invited to share their experiences and all that the area has to offer with the broader audience as they converge on the community and surrounding attractions.
This gathering is one of special significance to Altepeter, who has been coordinating the event for 21 years for the state. This will be her last as coordinator.
She has been through four governors, all of which have had their angling skills on display for a day.
“We were really excited when McGregor was chosen for the Governor’s Opener,” Altepeter said.
She noted that like McGregor, other smaller communities have been chosen in the past, and it’s always a joy for her to see a small group pull off such a big event. The media exposure that the area receives is worth about $2 million.
“We can make a big difference for the community,” Altepeter said.
Altepeter recalls in her first years on board, media were sent one postcard of what to expect at the event. Now a large colorful packet of information is released about the host community. The event planner used to be one page. It’s now 45 pages, and growing.
Her favorite part about each of the openers has been seeing the communities come together to show off the place they are so proud of.
It’s not easy being chosen for such an event. And it’s not one to be taken lightly.
“Some communities have to give it a try a few years first,” Altepeter said.
The chair of this year’s event, Lisa Kruse, did just that. She attended openers in Park Rapids, Waconia and Lake Vermilion. Over the years, Kruse has written four proposals to be in the running to host the event and finally was selected over a year ago. Kruse, the community education director for McGregor School District, believes McGregor is well deserving of the opener.
“I feel McGregor is a really unique community,” Kruse said. “We are a very big tourist community.”
She notes Big Sandy Lodge & Resort, Minnesota National Golf Course, many Bible camps, Savanna Portage State Park, Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge and an Army Corps of Engineers Federal Dam are all found within the community. Kruse said McGregor is known for hiking, biking, ATV trails, snowmobile trails, camping and its variety of lakes.
“As far as the outdoor enthusiast goes, we have so much to offer that person,” Kruse said. “I think we are kind of a hidden gem.”
Big Sandy is hidden 9 miles north of McGregor, about one hour and 20 minutes from Brainerd and two hours from the Twin Cities.
Attendees to the event will stay at Big Sandy Resort & Lodge, Big Sandy Camp & Retreat Center and Country Meadows Inn in McGregor, according to Kruse, which gives those attending several looks around the lake community.
Kruse looks forward to the media converging on the area this weekend.
“I think it will put McGregor on the map,” Kruse said. “It’s a great getaway destination.
“My goal was to really expose this community to the outside world to really boost tourism and help our local businesses.”
She’s had numerous people tell her they had no idea what McGregor has to offer. The small community includes a school with about 470 students. The population of McGregor is about 376, according to a 2013 census. Those newcomers attending will gain new insight on what this small town has to offer at the numerous events scheduled Friday and Saturday.
Those include a food-focused Taste of McGregor, which will feature a tour of food establishments of the area; an ATV ride on the Northwood’s ATV Trail System will take guests on the Lawler Loop; a history tour includes a stop at Savanna State Park, Sandy Lake Dam and Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge; and a FLOE boat tour shows off features of Big Sandy Lake while local author Robert Harder and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Chief Don Pereira speak about the waters and what tales they hold.
Friday also has a focus on the community, with a community picnic and music by the local band and choir and local band “Lake Effect,” which runs from 4-7 p.m. at Pine Rail Park in McGregor.
Close to 100 volunteers are making this event possible and continue to work to make sure all is in order. Kruse figures there will be about 110 fishing hosts taking out media and officials for the opening day of fishing.
“It’s been so rewarding to see all this come together,” Kruse said. “I’m really excited for it. It’s also been wonderful to see our community come together.”
The impact on the community can be hard to quantify in tourism dollars but Altepeter noted media coverage is tracked and some interesting events have occurred in the past.
When the opener launched at Park Rapids in 2013 a story went viral about the 3-year-old mayor of nearby Dorset, population 22. The mayor got worldwide coverage, which continuously linked back to the community and its unique offerings. The stories continue to come out of Dorset, which now has another 3-year-old mayor at the helm.
And when the event came to Lake Kabetogama in 2010, for the first time, people outside of the immediate community actually learned how to pronounce the name correctly. And after some regional coverage, the name was being used more and more, expressing all that the area had to offer.
“It’s a trickle down effect,” Altepeter said.
Altepeter said the job has been a pleasure to be a part of for over two decades. Coordinating the opener was about half of her job, the other included getting the word out about tourism in northwest and central Minnesota including 33 counties for Explore Minnesota.
While attending 21 Governor’s Openers may sound like a good time, Altepeter said she is looking forward to actually getting to fish on the opener next year, which hasn’t happened in all those years. She and her husband are avid anglers and look forward to exploring all the great places she knows the state has to offer.