What will it take to revive the North St. Paul ice fishing contest?

The North St. Paul Lions’ Ice Fishing Contest was an annual highlight at Silver Lake before extremes in weather took hold.
The North St. Paul Lions’ Ice Fishing Contest was an annual highlight at Silver Lake before extremes in weather took hold. (Linda Baumeister/Review)

Back in November, area parks got an early start on flooding ice rinks and grooming cross-country ski trails. Early signs of a cold Midwestern winter also fueled hopes of bringing the North St. Paul ice fishing contest back to Silver Lake. Before anything could be finalized, though, the snow and ice began to melt, right along with the confidence event planners had in taking a gamble on future ice conditions. The North St. Paul Lions Club, along with the support of the North St. Paul Fire Department, had once again entertained thoughts of bringing the annual ice fishing contest back -- this time on Feb. 15. But both parties say unfavorable long-range weather forecasts, combined with a lack of preplanning and dwindling Lions Club membership, halted talks in late December. "It's another community event that's going away, and that's not what we're trying to accomplish," says Scott Thorsen, a firefighter and North St. Paul City Council member. "Weather plays a nasty role in it sometimes." Back in 2011, Fire Chief Scott Duddeck called off the ice fishing contest, due to the opposite extreme: too much snow. The insulating effect of snow slows down the freezing process, and the extra heft of snow cover also reduces the amount of weight the ice sheet can support. Add in the hazard of pockmarking the ice by drilling holes that release water and raise ice levels when they freeze shut, and the event could have been a liability. Since then, the contest has struggled to get past the preplanning stages. North St. Paul firefighters volunteer to drill the holes in the ice for the fishing contest, but the Lions Club can't seem to generate enough manpower to invest in troubleshooting weather obstacles. "We've got such a low membership that we couldn't take it on. It's a big project," says Susan Hanssen, Lions president. "Maybe we'll revisit it if we get more members this year." While the club celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, Hanssen says membership numbers are down from a high of 200, years ago, to about 18 today. This means fewer dollars generated from member dues (which recently dropped from $60 to $40 every six months, in an effort to make the service club more accessible) and fewer volunteers to take initiative selling raffle tickets, collecting prizes, and promoting and executing the event. The end of a winter tradition? The 2010 ice fishing contest -- the last one on record -- cost the Lions Club about $10,000 to run. Prizes, including a portable Clam ice fishing shelter and fishing motors, accounted for the majority of the cost. Minnows and other fishing supplies made up the remainder of the expenses. Lions Club member Donita Haack isn't sure exactly how many contestants were on the lake that year, but says, "The lake was full. It was a bright, sunny day." Club treasurer Rolf Overlie says the Lions made about $2,000 that year in profits. The Lions use the winter proceeds to help fund a number of community service projects and donations to charitable organizations. "This is a small slice of rural America right here in the metro area," Hanssen says, noting that the ice fishing contest adds value to the community by getting people involved in a fun activity. "North St. Paul has a lot going for it, and hopefully we can keep some of this going. But it doesn't just happen", she says, referring to the many volunteers needed to pull off such a big event. Hanssen says the Lions have taken a conservative approach to the contest this year because income generated from selling raffle tickets ahead of time may not even cover the cost of the prizes if the contest, itself, were to be called off. The Lions learned this lesson in 2006, when they had to cancel the contest after several weeks of above-freezing temperatures that peaked at 48 degrees. They still held the raffles at Neumann's Bar in downtown North St. Paul, but Overlie says the club didn't make any money that year. "It's been a tradition that's gone on for many years in the past," Duddeck says. "But as we look at that, is it still the right thing to do for the community, as times have changed?" Erin Hinrichs can be reached at 651-748-7814 and ehinrichs@lillienews.com. Follow her at twitter.com/EHinrichsNews.

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