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Juhnke fears funding for fishing chapters could be pitted against proposals for veterans

WILLMAR -- The fate of a spending bill that would continue to help Let's Go Fishing with Seniors of Minnesota to open new chapters across the state will likely be decided in the coming week, according to Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar.

The local legislator said it is too early to know how funding for the program will be viewed in the debate that lies ahead, but he warned that the Let's Go Fishing request for funds could be pitted against proposals for veterans. He is the author of a bill that originally sought to continue $200,000 in funding for Let's Go Fishing. He said the request has now been trimmed to $100,000.

"They've run into a buzz saw like everyone else this year,'' said Juhnke, refering to budget-cutting in St. Paul.

Let's Go Fishing of Minnesota is working to make itself financially self-sustaining, according to Joe Holm of Willmar, its founder and president. The group is seeing success thanks to statewide sponsorship and donations, and especially the support for local chapters from businesses and individuals in the communities served.

But Holm said state funding support has been instrumental in helping the organization develop new chapters. The funds help with the up-front, infrastructure costs necessary to open a new chapter.

This year's legislation sought funding from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resource's fish and game fund. That had led a watchdog group that monitors spending in the fund -- the Game and Fish Fund Citizen Oversight Committee -- to charge that the department was being asked to support a social services-oriented program with funds from fishing and hunting license fees.

Juhnke said there is no intent -- or need -- to tap fish and hunting license revenues. He said the state can and should continue to tap general fund revenues for Let's Go Fishing.

Holm said the recent dust-up over funding has created some confusion. Last year the organization relied on more than 1,100 volunteers to provide fishing and boating excursions for more than 10,000 seniors across the state. All of those volunteers are exactly that. The volunteers who pilot the pontoon boats and assist the senior guests see no compensation or salaries of any sort, he explained.

Juhnke said Let's Go Fishing of Minnesota is just a matter of a few years from reaching economic self-sufficiency. He'd like the state to continue to provide some support until the organization can reach that point, and be in a position to offer its services all across the state.

Let's Go Fishing currently has 18 active chapters across the state, and Holm is optimistic of seeing 24 to 26 chapters operating by early summer. It has continued to pick up financial support from many of the state's best-known fishing tackle and boating companies.

Holm said it has also recently launched a sponsorship program for individuals who wish to contribute toward the costs of senior fishing and boating outings. And, it has produced a video that features outdoor personalities Al Linder and Ron Schara describing its mission and services.

For more information, view its Web site at: