Tourism vs. COVID-19 precautions: Lake of the Woods County Board discusses concerns with tourism in wake of attempts to keep local residents safe and healthy

Mike Hovde
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During a special meeting of the Lake of the Woods County Board on Friday morning, concerns with large numbers of tourists (mostly anglers) coming to the area at a time when people are being told to stay at home as much as possible in light of the COVID-19 pandemic was addressed.

Anger has been growing on social media outlets in the last several days as evidenced by posts from many Lake of Woods County residents. Many are expressing fear and anger knowing so many people are descending on the area to get in on the final days of ice fishing, with concerns of even more anglers showing up in the coming weeks. As the Rainy River thaws, there are traditionally hundreds, if not thousands, of anglers that head north to take advantage of the final weeks of walleye fishing.
Representatives of CHI LakeWood Health in Baudette were on hand for the board meeting and stated that people from outside the area traveling here during this time is also one of their biggest concerns.

“We are very concerned about tourism. They are still coming here. We have concerns of them buying up supplies that could be purchased by locals or one or more of them getting sick and needing to be hospitalized here, taking up a bed that could be used by a local person,” said Jenny Loughrey, Infection Control and Employee Health Coordinator at CHI LakeWood Health.

There was plenty of concern and even some anger expressed at efforts by Lake of the Woods Tourism to encourage people to come to the area at this time.

Friday morning, a post from Lake of the Woods Tourism was promoting fishing as “cheap psychology.” That is probably a true statement and many officials are encouraging people to get out for a walk and take part in other outdoors activities while practicing social distancing. The concern though is that those posts were also promoting Lake of the Woods and many of those people traveling from other areas of the state to this area are from counties where there are confirmed cases of the coronavirus. It’s very likely they will also stop and interact with residents at gas stations, bottle shops, grocery stores, lodging facilties and restaurants that are offering to-go options.
Emergency Management Director Jill Olson reported that she had reached out to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources asking if there were any plans to shut down the fishing season and was told there wasn’t.

She was also told that the season could only be shut down by legislative action at the state level or by an Executive Order from Governor Walz.
All present agreed that this issue is unique to Lake of the Woods as it is one of the only places that still attract a large customer base at the end of the winter season and the early spring season.

“Someone needs to talk to the Tourism Bureau about encouraging people to come here,” said Lake of the Woods County Attorney Jim Austad.
“People who come up here might come up here anyway, but we don’t need to be promoting it at this time,” said Commissioner Jon Waibel.
“It’s irresponsible,” said Commissioner Cody Hasbargen of the Tourism’s Bureau’s current efforts to encourage traffic to Lake of the Woods.
“Can you have that discussion with Joe?” asked Waibel of Commissioner Ed Arnesen, who was attending the meeting via phone conference. Waibel was referring to Joe Henry, Executive Director of Lake of the Woods Tourism.

“Yes,” Arnesen responded.

“Tell him to go radio silent for a while,” suggesteded Commissioner Joe Grund.

Before the meting ended, Hasbargen told the board that he had received a call during the meeting from Commissioner Skoe from Koochiching County.

Skoe was reaching out and requested a phone conference meeting with the Lake of the Woods County Board to discuss their concerns with the spring fishing season and influx of people expected. As the river opens from east to west, many of the public accesses that anglers flock to first are in Koochiching County.

That call-in joint meeting will take place during next Tuesday’s regular county board meeting.

14 Comments

  1. Patrick Gubbels on March 20, 2020 at 4:06 pm

    Have Ed Arnesen start by setting the example, close his ice road!!!! 😂😂😂 ya right

    • David on March 21, 2020 at 7:20 pm

      Arnesen’s doesn’t have an ice road….

    • Tj TJ Huerd on March 21, 2020 at 7:32 pm

      Arnesens don’t have an iceroad….

  2. Beth on March 20, 2020 at 4:44 pm

    I can’t think of a better place to quarantine than to spend a week in a fish house..

  3. C.T. Marhula on March 20, 2020 at 4:48 pm

    L/W voted 3 to 1 for Trump. Elections have consequences.

  4. Joanne Nordine on March 20, 2020 at 5:56 pm

    I generally avoid posting touchy topics but I am IRATE! This is a very uncertain time and we are, as a nation, being asked to do our part to slow the spread of COV-19. As I see one fancy Icecastle after another swarm up here I cringe. Lakewood staff have been working TIRELESSLY to prepare tor this epidemic. Businesses are figuring out creative ways to help this community. Churches are streaming services so that important part of life is not missed. It is impossible to include everything people up here are doing to keep our community safe. Right now is NOT the time to “hang out” at Lake if the Woods. It is time to STAY HOME and protect others from the unpredictable reaction to this virus. The people rushing up here for a little R&R could be leaving a LOT more than their trash up here. PLEASE do SOMETHING to stop this!!!!!!

  5. Wendy Rogers on March 21, 2020 at 12:23 am

    The truth is, with out these tourist who have made Lake of the Woods, their favorite place to be away from home, we probably wouldn’t even be a town! That’s the truth. Those out of towners pit is on the map!!! They love our county maybe more than we do sometimes. And this natural resource of nature belongs to them as much as it does to us. Many of us owe our livelihoods to them. They are not the problem!!’ Our own fears of the unknown are. There is nothing to be feared as fear it’s self. Do not call an enemy, those who made us who we are! Our beloved tourists!!!
    Wendy Rogers
    Bartender at Lake of the Woods since 2007

  6. Wendy Rogers on March 21, 2020 at 12:29 am

    Please edit my spelling and punctuation

  7. Deb Anderson on March 21, 2020 at 3:51 pm

    Hopefully, the county board will contact our legislators and Gov. Walz about closing the fishing season. In the meantime, email your thoughts to Rep.Matt.Grossell, Sen. Paul Utke and Gov. Tim Walz. I have.
    P.S. I didn’t vote for Trump!

  8. Jenny on March 21, 2020 at 6:57 pm

    I would like to clarify…
    Of course we value our tourists…all I am saying is during this time of a global pandemic, we are discouraging any unnecessary travel and practice social distancing. When we get through this, which we will…things go back to normal. Hopefully we will be smarter about infection control and kinder to each other.
    Remember to wash your hands, cover your cough (cough into your elbow/sleeve), don’t touch your face especially your eyes, nose and mouth, stay 6 ft away from others, no more than 10 in a group setting, clean high touched surfaces often – door knobs, light switches, countertops…etc. and most importantly, stay home if you are sick!
    We have not had a global pandemic since the 1918 Spanish Flu.
    For more information, please visit http://www.cdc.gov.
    Thank you

  9. Julie on March 21, 2020 at 9:04 pm

    The only thing wrong with this situation is that these tourist stop at our local grocery stores.. gas stations…and businesses that are still open. We have to wait on these people’s and the town is at risk. We are telling people to stay at home.. when the tourist come and expect the locals to wait on them but still keep the six foot distance. The resorts are closed to this contact but the town people aren’t.

  10. Tony Brouse on March 22, 2020 at 10:55 am

    With all of thee unknown that could possibly happen and with the suggestion of the US gov telling folks to stay home I guess maybe this shouldnt be even a topic of discussion. With the size of our medial facility along with size of staff and equipment if shit did hit the fan it’s not fair to anyone who works in healthcare or any member of this community for that matter that we keep letting people to keep coming here. Turn them around and send them home for now till things get calmed down.

  11. . on March 22, 2020 at 6:52 pm

    Every April we come up for sturgeon fishing. I bring up worms I bought from our local Walmart and the only things we stop to buy are gas and maybe hit a fast food drive through. Other than that I’d be in a boat away from crowds or in the cabin at the resort. How is that going to spread anything any more than it already is?

  12. Jeff Nelson on March 23, 2020 at 7:44 am

    I have been going back and forth in my head about whether or not I should keep my plans of sturgeon fishing at the end of April. I’ve been looking forward to this all winter long! However, after reading the people’s concerns and posts here, I am going to do the responsible thing and postpone this trip until 2021. Even if I go from truck to cabin to boat and never go in a store, if I am contagious, I could still affect someone up there (housekeeping, check-out person, etc) and that would not be fair to the folks up there who are trying to prevent a local outbreak. Yes, fishing is important to many, and tourism dollars are the lifeblood of this area, but now is the time to show compassion for humanity and stay on the couch.

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