DEVILS LAKE, N.D. – Tourism promoters in Devils Lake have put new marketing plans on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic, except for advertising that was previously approved or submitted, the executive director of Devils Lake Tourism said this week.
The Lake Region is between seasons as ice fishing winds down for the winter and anglers begin making plans for open water. Fishing season is continuous in North Dakota.
Year-round fish cleaning stations on the lake have been locked until further notice, and with ice fishing ending and bars, restaurants and other businesses mostly closed, many people have canceled any remaining trips, said Suzie Kenner, the tourism group’s executive director.
“We are at the end of one season and getting ready for another season to start so we haven’t really publicly ‘discouraged’ people from coming, but we also are not ‘encouraging’ them either,” Kenner said in an email.
Aside from an occasional online request for a vacation packet or visitor guide, tourism interest has been pretty slow, Kenner said.
“We’ve hardly gotten any phone calls at all in the last probably week or so,” she said.
In the short-term, Devils Lake Tourism has changed its marketing strategy to promote what Kenner calls “tourism within.” Plans are in the works to launch weekly video fishing reports, encouraging family friendly activities such as shore fishing so people can get outside, Kenner said, while still following the social-distancing guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.
“We are promoting our restaurants with their take-out and delivery options, and promoting businesses with changes as they come to our community,” Kenner said. “We have definitely become more community-focused at the moment.”
In the near future, Devils Lake Tourism will work with North Dakota Tourism to develop a plan to resume advertising when the risks subside and businesses begin returning to normal operations, Kenner said.
“Once that happens, we will look toward promoting long-range travel plans,” she said. “We will also put a bigger focus on the upcoming events that will still be in place.”
In the next couple of weeks, Kenner said Devils Lake Tourism will work with local establishments to try and gauge how to proceed with future advertising.
“We are also taking the, ‘If we haven’t spent it yet, it is on hold,’ approach until we can safely move forward with promoting to the outside world,” she said. “We will also look at options that we can get the biggest bang for our buck.”
Unlike nearby states such as Wisconsin and Minnesota, where urban residents reportedly have headed to lake cabins or seasonal homes to wait out the pandemic, most seasonal Devils Lake visitors have campers that aren’t open yet, Kenner said.
“I know the hospitals and such in those areas are pretty concerned,” Kenner said. “We don’t have a lot of people coming to this area to get away, that I can tell.”
People are still ice fishing, but shoreline access conditions are quickly deteriorating, and anglers have been “pretty few and far between” the past couple of weeks, said Jonathan Peterson, district game warden for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Devils Lake.
So far, at least, Peterson said he’s not aware of any concerns from local residents about anglers coming in from out of state and potentially spreading the COVID-19 coronavirus.
“Not yet — I’m sure it’s coming,” Peterson said. “With Minnesota and Wisconsin kind of shutting down, I think that alleviated a lot of the calls. I think people just assume we’re kind of shut down, too.”
At this point, at least, there are no laws or special rules in place prohibiting anglers from visiting North Dakota, but the state Game and Fish Department on Thursday issued a news release encouraging anglers to follow social distancing guidelines, whether fishing from shore, on ice or in a boat. As ice-out on Devils Lake draws closer, Kenner said tourism promoters will meet with Game and Fish and the Lake Region Anglers Association, if necessary, to discuss public boat accesses and any potential closures or restrictions.
In northern Minnesota, officials in Lake of the Woods and Koochiching counties have closed or restricted access to boat ramps on the Rainy River as a way to discourage anglers from heading to the border country for spring walleye fishing during the pandemic.
“(Ramps) won’t open up for a few weeks yet so we’ve got a little bit of time on that,” Kenner said.
Dokken reports on outdoors. Call him at (701) 780-1148, (800) 477-6572 ext. 1148 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.