Governor's Fishing Opener puts the spotlight on Lake City

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May 11—LAKE CITY — The sun was shining and the birds were chirping on the morning of May 11, 2024, but many were hoping the fish would be biting as well.

People from all over the state, including Gov. Tim Walz, found their way to Lake City this week for the 76th Annual Minnesota Governor's Fishing Opener. Lake City, which sits on Lake Pepin, is a hidden gem within Minnesota, but even Walz was shocked more people don't choose to take a weekend away there.

"Oftentimes, (Minnesotans) say, 'Oh my goodness, Lake City's a hidden jewel,'" said Walz. "Are people not paying attention? We know this. This is a fantastic community. It has fantastic commitment to all of the things that we care about and I think bringing this fishing opener here and you welcoming all the folks that are here matters."

When Lake City Mayor Mark Nichols first began the extensive paperwork to apply for the fishing opener location, he was just giving it a shot. He thought it could be an exciting opportunity for Lake City.

"There's quite a detailed application process and there's additional commitments," said Nichols. "There's people commitments, there's donor commitments, all these things and our group got together and we said, let's give it a try. So we applied and gave it our best and we were accepted and we are really excited about the number of donations or companies and individuals that stepped up and helped with the financial responsibilities, particularly lodging, food, just simple manpower."

Local businesses, organizations and members of the community banded together to create a welcoming environment with food, fun and more.

For Nichols and the rest of the community, the fishing opener became an opportunity to show people from outside the area the beauty of the city and the strength of the community.

"We're 152 years old," said Nichols. "Two years ago, we celebrated the 100th birthday of waterskiing. That individual grew up in Lake City. ... There are beautiful lakes up north with beautiful topography and hills, but we have the same thing here and we're 33 miles from the Mayo Clinic mother ship. We actually have a Mayo clinic here. We really do have quantifiable strong schools and by test scores, and the city's in good financial shape. So what we're seeing is increasing population because people recognize the beauty of the area."

Beauty is a contributing factor, but the community is also a driving force for people moving into the area. Local restaurants prepared extensively for the influx of people the weekend would bring in.

"We had to order twice as much product," said Ben Miller, co-owner of Big Bear Pizzeria in Lake City. "We just went off what we did last week for the garage sale weekend. We just ordered twice the monthly product, fingers crossed and hoped it's busy."

The decision to order extra was a great one. The restaurant was packed on Friday night with constant food traffic from customers.

The pizzeria becomes increasingly busy as the weather gets nicer. The restaurant lies across the street from the marina in town and its ice cream is a big draw for customers in the warmer weather, especially for families and children.

"Everyone is very excited," said Miller. "I did see the governor walk by probably about 20 minutes ago, but he was just down there. There's a lot of people that are very excited for the opener."

The prepwork looked a little different for Heidi Walker, the owner of Heidi's Huggamug Cafe. Instead of ordering more inventory, Walker and her staff had to make sure there were enough baked goods made for sale.

"I knew that I had to have a lot of bakery items," said Walker. "I knew that I had to have it standing tall. I knew that everything had to be done exactly perfect and I told my staff just have fun and smile and talk to people. They did a fabulous job. They were on it."

Heidi's Huggamug Cafe has also had constant business in and out of the building. Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan claimed that she had the best breakfast sandwich there prior to going to the launch event at the Lake City marina on Saturday morning. She made it clear that she would definitely be back.

"I love it here," said Walker. "We have a beautiful community of people that come here all year round. We have the people that come on the weekends and I've become close with a lot of them and I love every one of them and I get excited when they come back."

Walker and the rest of the community are really excited to see if this opens some eyes to the wonderful city and community that they have in Lake City. She hopes that the strong sense of community is what really shines through while people are visiting.

"I mean our town has so much to offer and I think that we get missed sometimes," said Walker. "We have some amazing shops and amazing shop owners and we collaborate together. One of my very good friends owns a Chickadee Cottage and she and I have each other's backs no matter what even though we're the same. We just have a lot to offer."